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B.A., University of Iowa, 1992 

M.Ed., DePaul University, 2001 

A thesis submitted to the 

Faculty of the Graduate School of the 

University of Colorado in partial fulfillment 

of the requirements for the degree of 

Master of Arts 

English Literature 





The thesis for the Master of Arts degree by 

Laura Ann Horton-DePass 

has been approved for the 

Department of English 


Nancy Ciccone, Chair 

Michelle Comstock 

Eliot K. Wilson 

12 April 2013 


Horton-DePass, Laura Ann 

Lost in Translation: The Queens of Beowulf 

Thesis directed by Professor Nancy Ciccone 


The poem Beowulf has been translated hundreds of times, in part or in whole. In past 
decades translators such as Howell Chickering and E. Talbot Donaldson firmly adhered to 
formal equivalency, following the original text line-by-line if not word-by-word. Such 
translations are useful for Anglo-Saxon students but cannot reach a larger audience because 
they are unwieldy and often incomprehensible. In the past fifty years, though, a group of 
translators with different philosophies has taken up the task of translating the poem with 
greater success. Translators such as Marc Hudson, Edwin Morgan, and Seamus Heaney 
used dynamic equivalency for their versions, eschewing strict grammatical accuracy and 
literal diction in order to recreate the sense and experience of the poem for a modern 
audience. How two translators, E. Talbot Donaldson and Seamus Heaney, treat the queens 
in the poem as revealed by a close textual analysis proves to be an excellent example of the 
two methodologies; formal equivalence translators do not endow their female characters 
with the agency and respect present in the original text, while dynamic equivalence 
translators take liberties with the language to give their readers a strong sense of the 
powerful but tragic queen figures. Harold Bloom's theory of the development of poets in 
The Anxiety of Influence can help explain this shift from formal equivalency to dynamic 
equivalency. Translators of Beowulf necessarily react against their predecessors, and since 
translators usually explain their process and philosophy in forwards or introductions, their 
motivations for "swerving away" are clear. Formal equivalence translators misrepresented 
the original text by devaluing the literary merit of the original poem and dynamic 
equivalence translators seek to remedy the misrepresentation by elaborating and expanding 
the language of the original to reach a wider audience. Each generation must continue to 
translate against the grain of its predecessors in order to keep the poem alive for a larger 
audience so that the poem will continue to be enjoyed by future audiences. 

The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend publication. 

Approved: Nancy Ciccone 



Thanks to Nancy Ciccone and Eliot Wilson for their patience and willingness to consider 
my scattered and oftentimes incomprehensible ideas. 

And thanks to my special men, Robert Bruce Horton, Christopher Horton-DePass, and 
Robert Bruce Horton-DePass, for their love and support. 













A.l-3 98 

B.l-3 102 

C.l-3 107 

D.l-3 110 

E.l-3 113 

F.l-3 116 



H.l-3 125 





When Beowulf first arrives to the Danish shore with his troop of armed warriors, 
he is of course challenged by Hroogar's sentinel to state his purpose. This delicate 
situation could end in violence or in welcome depending on Beowulf s reaction. The text 
of line 259 reads: 

Werodes wlsa, word-hord onleac: 

The leader of the band unlocked his word-hoard. Beowulf has been silent to this point, 
but now he must speak eloquently to avoid trouble; word-hord implies that his language is 
like a beautiful treasure that is locked away and only brought out in times of need. And 
the language of Beowulf 'is indeed beautiful — the metaphor suits not only the situation at 
hand but also the poem as a whole, a work of art comprised of beautiful language. 

Beowulf was not always thought to be a masterful work of art, though — for a long 
time it was not part of the canon because it was thought to be primitive or only of passing 

historical significance to scholars. Translators with a view only for history did not unlock 
their word-hord; they created translations that did not consider the poem as literature, but 
rather emphasized historical aspects. Such translations are dull and lackluster, full of 
footnotes, adopting a literalness that is not reminiscent of the original poem's depth and 
figurative language. Although such translators may have stayed true to the word and the 
line of the original, they were unfaithful to the unity of the poem as a work of art. 

It was only when translators began to emphasize the artistic merits of Beowulf that 
we see the poem come alive again. Translators such as Edwin Morgan and Seamus Heaney 
unlocked their word-hoards to translate the poem not word-for-word but by creatively 
adjusting lines and words and meanings in order to transmit the original sense of the poem 
to a modern audience. By focusing on the queens of Beowulf and how translators treated 
them, we can see the effect of the difference in translation theories; formal equivalence 
translators, who generally value formal equivalency or line-by-line translation, tend to 
translate the queens as two-dimensional and ornamental, while dynamic equivalence 

Beowulf s reputation will be discussed in Chapter VII. Tolkien's article "The Monsters and 
the Critics" outlines how the poem was underestimated for years. 

translators, who implement a less exacting grammatical translation method, represent the 
queens as strong, politically astute women who play an essential role in the poem. 

The purpose of translating Beowulf for these two groups of translators differs. Older 
formal equivalence translations were meant for students as a crib for translation or for the 
study of the poem, leaving interpretation out of the text and placing context in footnotes. 
More recent dynamic equivalence translators create versions for a larger audience, and so 
place context in the lines themselves, although doing so means veering away from a line- 
by-line translation. A greater focus on the poetry and aesthetics of the poem also demands 
changes to the diction and syntax of the original lines. The result is a translation that 
displays the possibilities in the figurative language of the original text, instead of hiding 
them in a footnote. 

This thesis begins by reviewing the feminist criticism of the female characters to 
establish that the Beowulf queens are women of position and stature and to show the 
importance of their roles both in the poem and in the culture. In chapter IV I discuss 
different translation theories and their impact on Beowulf. Chapter V is an overview of the 
translation philosophies of translators of Beowulf, formal equivalence translators have quite 
a different view of what the role of a translator should be that the dynamic equivalence 

translators. I then focus in on two translators that can serve as representatives of their 
respective disciplines: E. Talbot Donaldson's prose translation was the version used in the 
Norton Critical Edition for decades, until Seamus Heaney's 4-stress verse translation was 
commissioned to replace it. Since the Norton Critical Edition is the obligatory book for 
many readers and students, these translators are an excellent gauge; Donaldson and Heaney 
embody the changing attitude of translating Beowulf. In chapter VI I closely read the 
original text and compare it to Donaldson's and Heaney's translations to show how a 
collection of minor translation decisions change the characterization of female characters, 
and thus the tenor of the poem. 

Finally, in Chapter VII I suggest a reason for the shift in translation approaches by 
using Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence. Bloom's theory of the development of 
strong poets relies on Freud's universal Oedipal Complex theory, in which the son desires 
to kill his father and love his mother in order to mature. Bloom's application of this theory 
of the development of poets can also apply to the translators of Beowulf who similarly 
create literature through language and also seek to develop their own identities as 
translators by reacting against their predecessors. 

The difficulty in analyzing Beowulf comes from the muddiness of its provenance — it 
is a Germanic tale that was "Christianized" and written down by two medieval scribes. Only 
one original copy exists. We cannot know the intentions of the creator(s) of the tale or of 
the scribes/monks who decided to put the oral poem on paper. We, like the translators, 
can only guess at what the poem means, guided by the language itself. Those more skilled 
in the use of language to create meaning and who are familiar with both medieval and 
Germanic cultures will be more able to glean the figurative language and possible meanings 
of the poem. Because of their different agendas, the metaphor of "unlocking a word- 
hoard" is more resonant to a dynamic equivalence translator than it is to a formal 
equivalence translator, and the multiple layers of possibility of what the phrase can mean is 
more of a joy to the former than to the latter. Thus, the Beowulf of a. dynamic equivalence 
translator is more expressive and sensitive than the Beowulf of a. formal equivalence 



"a more rounded picture is now emerging which gives the royal women of this period the 
importance that they undoubtedly deserve" (Hill, Joyce 154) 

One of the ways Beowulf has been translated into contemporary culture is as a 
cartoon; there is an animated major motion picture loosely based on the poem. Angelina 
Jolie provided the voice for Grendel's mother. Monsters and dragons will always have 
appeal, I suppose, and there will always be those who will capitalize on them. Such 
abridgement of the poem as is common in a movie removes one of the most important 
elements, however; to cull whatever is not directly relevant to the main storyline, to remove 
the digressions and allusion and historical context, reduces the poem to an easily-digested 
adventure story worthy of a cartoon. If we read only with an eye for the arc of the story, we 
miss the subtleties that make the poem great. 

The poem's subtle arrangement is like a braid: John Leyerle compares the structure 
of Beowulf to the interlace design common in Anglo-Saxon times (see app. I). The line of a 

1 "Beowulf earned 197 million in 2007. The two hour animated feature by Paramount 
Pictures was directed by Robert Zemeckis, screenplay by Neil Gaiman. 

design curves around and moves forward only to fold back on itself and weave through 

other strands. Although the whole of an interlace design may create a line or a letter or an 

animal, the details of the design are not linear and seem difficult to follow. Likewise 

within the structure of Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon texts: 

Interlace appears so regularly on sculpture, jewellery, weapons, and in 
manuscript illuminations that it is the dominant characteristic of this art. 
There is clear evidence that a parallel technique of word-weaving was used 
as a stylistic device in both Latin and Old English poems of the period. 
(Leyerle 163) 

This "word-weaving" is particularly noticeable in Beowulf. Historical events, stories, and 

themes will pop up in one place and then submerge back into the interlace of the poem 

only to reemerge later on, and close examination of each "strand" reveals relevance to the 

whole of the poem. Each strand strengthens the interlace of the poem. Some strands are 

often called digressions, but the term is inaccurate because although the stories and 

histories interwoven into poem do not affect the main action, they place the story in a 

larger context, and in doing so the poem becomes more significant that a mere adventure 

story; it becomes a commentary on culture and the human experience. Comparisons, 

explanations, and allusions create a larger space in the poem than merely Hroogar's hall and 

Beowulf s homeland; readers can place the poem in the continuum of a complete world, and 

so individual events in the poem have more resonance. Beowulf 'is called an epic poem 
because it is about an entire culture. 

One such strand that has been recklessly dismissed is that of the female characters. 
There are only eleven women in the poem, and only five of those have names, all queens. 
Only two women have agency in the main action of the poem, and we only hear 
Wealhbeow speak. The one female character who directly affects the action in the poem is 
Grendel's mother, but she is often interpreted as more monster than female. It is easy to 
assume that since women were valued less than men historically, they also have little value 
in the poem; indeed, before 1970 the female characters were often mere footnotes in 
literary analysis of the poem. A closer examination of the position of women in the culture 
of the story of Beowulf counters this assumption. The female characters are complex and 
multidimensional. As women they have a subtlety necessary in a culture in which only men 
are active, and the Beowulf poet uses them as necessary devices to the poem's elaborate 
structure. If we were to take this strand out of the interlace, the poem would be weakened 
significantly, as it was in many early scholarly translations. 

1 J.R.R. Tolkien in his essay "The Monsters and the Critics" suggested that "It may turn 
out to be no epic at all" (254). The point is debated by Beowulf scholars. 

The female characters prove to be quite sophisticated and multi-faceted. They serve 

both as rich characters unto themselves and also as symbols of larger issues and themes. 

Stacy Klein asserts that: 

Anglo-Saxon writers positioned legendary royal women in the midst of 
texts that were designed to express their authors' views on the most 
difficult and contentious issue of Anglo-Saxon society. And they did so, I 
would argue, because these authors saw women as deeply affected by and 
able to affect those issues. (195) 

As participants in and often victims of complicated social issues of the culture, female 

characters shed light on causes and ramifications of social norms. The female characters 

signify much more than characters that bring the mead to the men. 

Although past scholarship has ignorantly marginalized them as secondary 

characters, the queens in Beowulf are indeed important to the poem in many ways. The 

queens are mentioned throughout each section of the poem: "women are not excluded 

from the world of Beowulf. They play important roles that are public and active rather than 

merely private and passive" (Olsen 314). Characters such as Wealhbeow may not pick up a 

sword and chop off Grendel's head, but her contribution to both the society of Heorot and 

to the poem's meaning cannot be dismissed. They are both a powerful women with agency 

and a representation of larger ideas, such as heroism and gender politics. 

Germanic Women vs. Medieval Women 

In 1805 Sharon Turner wrote in her book The History of Manners, Landed Property, 

Governments, Laws, Poetry, Literature, Religion, and Language of the Anglo-Saxons about the 

position of women in that society: 

It is well known that the female sex were much more highly valued and more 
respectfully treated by the barbarous Gothic nations than by the more polished 
states of the East. Among the Anglo-Saxons they occupied the same important 
and independent rank in society which they now enjoy. (108) 

Turner goes on to explain the legal rights and social respect Anglo-Saxon women 

possessed; she equated these women with women of her own age. At the time of her 

writing, Beowulfhad yet to be translated into Modern English, but the knowledge of 

women's place in that historical time was at hand to help guide any translator. Although 

today we read the poem with our modern day culture, a medieval audience and a Germanic 

audience would have read or heard the poem with a Germanic ideal of women. Women in 

the Germanic tradition had even more status and held stronger positions in society than 

their late medieval counterparts; the Germanic tradition of a woman's role was slowly 

dissolving in Anglo-Saxon England. As Pat Belanoff of State University of New York 

notes, the women in Beowulf compare to other characters from Germanic literature: 


The long tradition lying behind the Anglo-Saxon female portrait becomes 
evident when one looks at the women of Old Norse literature, which 
preserves the earliest extant written versions of many stories common to 
Germanic culture. These women are both intelligent and shining. (823) 

The queens in Beowulf are indeed both wise and shining with gold. Wealhbeow is usually 
described as shining in her gold (614, 640, 1163), and she is a wise counsel to Hroogar 

Although the queens in Beowulfwere subject to arranged marriages with distant 
tribes in order to forge bonds as peaceweavers, the role was neither passive nor simple. 
According to Carol Parrish Jamison, "Early Germanic women had, in fact, a number of 
possible responses to marital exchanges and could find ways to move well beyond the role 
of object, asserting their influence as mothers and diplomats by king-making, or king- 
breaking, in their new husbands' homes" (30). Their mere presence was not the bond of 
peace: the queens had to actively negotiate the complex social fabric of dynasty and warring 
nations within a new tribe. Their influence was great. Wealhbeow demands Hroogar 
remember his own sons in succession, and Hygd offers the kingship to Beowulf instead of 
her sons: "It is difficult to perceive Wealhbeow as an object: she has established a new 
identity in her husband's hall, occupying a position that enables her to participate in king- 


making decisions" Qamison). The queen is more of a political figure with her own power 

than the hostess of Hroogar. 

It is only later in history, after Beowulfwas written, that women began to be 

marginalized by western Christianity. Belanoff reminds us that 

Undoubtedly medieval Christianity drastically altered Anglo-Saxon society, 
but its influence on the status of women was not immediately negative. 
Such evidence as is available suggests that the full impact of the church's 
antifeminist attitudes was not felt until after the Norman Conquest. (827) 

If the original audience of Beowulf viewed the queens as characters worth consideration 

beyond that of objects, it is disingenuous for any translator to instead recreate the 

characters of the queens as passive and simple. Reading or translating the poem with the 

assumption that women are sublimated and insignificant characters, one can dismiss the 

female characters as secondary to the heroic tale; reading or translating with the Germanic 

assumption that women hold a valued and complicated position in society, it becomes easy 

to see how essential the queens are in the interlace of the epic. 


Just as the Beowulf poet is a weaver of words and themes, the queens are weavers of 

social relationships. Queens in the world of Beowulf had the difficult position of 


peaceweavers. In a time when tribes warred with each other to gain lands and riches, the 
marriage of the daughter of a leader into another tribe could create strong bonds; by 
becoming family, treaties between tribes were strengthened. At least this was the idea. As 
evidenced by Hildeburh and Hroogar's daughter Freawaru, marriage was no guarantee of 
peace. Gillian Overing in her book Language, Sign, and Gender in Beowulf 'notes, "Peace- 
weavers are assigned the role of creating peace in a culture where war and death are 
privileged values. Female failure is built into this system" (82). If honor and bravery and 
booty are the primary values of a culture, battle is inevitable because it is the only way to 
gain them. Thus queens in this culture are innately tragic figures because they are destined 
to fail. They can never fulfill their basic function within a tribe. 

Wealhbeow is the model peaceweaver. As Hroogar's queen, her place is both 
domestic and public at the same time. She must confirm her husband's elevated status and 
work for the stability of the whole tribe, not just her dynasty. It is not a role for weak or 
insignificant women, as Klein states: "Peaceweaving proceeds according to a logic that 
demands that one redefine the place traditionally allotted to the domestic within a heroic 
ethos. ..and recognize women as central forces, rather than marginal supports, in the 
production of social order" (104). Wealhbeow negotiates peace not only between her tribe 


of origin and her tribe by marriage, but she must keep the peace within the hall itself. 

Queens had to keep the social fabric of the tribes from rending in a culture bent on 

violence, yet they could not wield their power directly and openly like a king. Subtlety and 

indirect action were necessary to keep the peace: 

Her ways of achieving this goal within the tribe were several: she might 
serve as wise counselor, all the time being close-mouthed about the counsel; 
she might be "rum-hearted" with horses and treasures in rewarding the 
valiant men of the tribe; and finally, she might distinguish among the men 
of the tribe by first presenting the lord with mead and then passing the cup 
to the ranking members of the duguth, or old retainers, and the geoguth, or 
young retainers, as does Wealhtheow. (Chance 4) 

Social protocol was the domain of the queens, and Wealhbeow is a crafty and graceful 

wielder of the power of her position, as we will see in chapter VI. 

In a culture in which violence and battle are so highly valued as in the heroic 

culture of Beowulf, though, peaceweavers are ironically destined to fail. Klein notes the 

difficulty of the position of the queens: 

In a society in which peace is only effected through war and war is defined 
as the rightful domain of men, weaving peace through female bodies would 
seem to be theoretically impossible. Within such a culture, the female 
peaceweaver can only symbolize peace that has been effected through the 
actions of men, which may partly explain why... Wealhbeow always appears 
after a battle has been concluded. (100) 


Wealhbeow cannot create peace through direct action, but she can only try to head off 
battle or manage the aftermath. Freawaru and Hildeburh are examples of peaceweavers in 
Beowulf who could not succeed no matter how great their efforts. Hildeburh could not 
prevent a battle between her original tribe and her husband's tribe, and so all the men 
closest to her died. Beowulf predicts Freawaru's failure as a peaceweaver in her engagement 
to the head of another tribe because he says men will not forget a perceived slight and will 
want revenge when the honeymoon is over. We see Wealhbeow as a successful queen, but 
we know from the historical interludes in the interlace of the story that most queens hold a 
precarious position and may be doomed to failure no matter how skillful their weaving. 

Valkyrie Figures 
If we view the female characters through a Germanic lens, it is possible that the 
queens are actually Valkyrie figures, according to Helen Damico in her book Beowulf s 
Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition. Such characters in Norse mythology decide which 
soldiers will die in battle, or they are lovers of heroes and daughters of royalty. Damico 
compares the queens in Beowulf 'to Valkyrie figures in the Germanic tradition and finds 
many parallels. Since it is probable that the story of Beowulf originated in a Germanic land 


and then was brought to England to be written down in Anglo-Saxon after modifications 

due to culture and Christianity, Valkyrie figures would be not only appropriate but also 

expected. Reading the queens as Valkyrie figures, women with special powers or women 

who guide men in battle, clearly gives them more power and complexity: "Wealhtheow, 

rather than being an anomalous figure in the literature, not only is compatible with the 

female warriors of Anglo-Saxon epic, Elene, Judith, and Juliana, but like them is in 

harmony with the Valkyrie-brides of the Eddie lays" (Damico 86). Contemporary 

audiences and even Anglo-Saxon audiences of Beowulf might not immediately make the 

connection, but once the connection is made it becomes impossible to dismiss the queens 

as extraneous. The parallels are interesting: 

As drink-bearing welcoming figures in environments that are redolent of 
past and future violence, they evoke the idea of the transience of present 
merriment and pleasure. In their metallic resplendence, they may be seen as 
embodiments of the intoxicating beauty of gold and the possible destruction 
it brings to those who seek it. And as possessors of consummate necklaces 
with erotic and religious potency, they represent two forces of human 
experience that impel men to action and alter their personalities. (Damico 

Wealhbeow is described as goldhroden, arrayed in gold (614, 640), and she is first seen 
passing mead to the men in the hall in order of precedence (615). She gives Beowulf a 


necklace (1216) and exhorts both Beowulf and Hroogar to remember and protect her sons. 

As Damico points out such similarities, one cannot help but see Wealhbeow and other 

queens in new light. 

New Idea of Heroism 

The queens and the feminine voice could also represent a new ideal of heroism. In 

the heroic age, heroism of course involved feats of strength and courage. Direct, violent 

action was rewarded with glory and spoils. Men were successful in this culture if they 

could prove themselves in battle, and a death from battle was considered a good death. In 

Beowulf the men accept this protocol, but the poem does not glorify the heroic culture, 

according to Klein: 

queens serve as a means for the Beowulf 'poet to redefine an old and outdated 
model of heroism... the poem urges readers to focus on the costs rather than 
the glories of the traditional heroic code of violent action and to adopt the 
view of those members of society, such as women and aged men, who were 
unable to participate fully in that code. (196) 

The women and even Hroogar are passive and yet still seen as worthy of respect and 

admiration. Both Hroogar and Wealhbeow are equally unable to save their hall, yet we do 

not fault them for it. In addition, the Beowulf poet shows Wealhbeow doing more and 

taking more direct action with her words and gifts among the men than Hroogar does. 


Wealhbeow provides an alternative example of success to that of violent battle, representing 

the Christian version of heroism: turn the other cheek and live a good life, and salvation 

will be the reward instead of gold. 

Since Beowulf 'is a Christian retelling of a Norse tale, it makes sense that the poet 

would superimpose a different set of cultural values on the Germanic story in a way that 

does not change the storyline, and the feminine characters easily provide a new, Christian 

ideal of heroism. The poem is not a battle of man-against-man, but of culture against 

monsters. To act in a correct manner and support the tribe become much more important 

than a might-makes-right mentality, and the feminine characters are perfect examples of 

this new ideal of heroic success: 

To move a figure, image, or idea into a new textual arena is necessarily to 
transform it. As the Beowulf poet mobilizes feminine voices to prescribe a 
new model of heroism premised on turning the violent energies of heroic 
self-assertion inward and waging battles against one's inner vices rather than 
against human foes, the very nature of such entrenched heroic ideas as 
"battle," "enemy," and "hero" undergo significant shifts to the point where 
"heroic," as either generic category or cultural code, becomes almost 
unrecognizable. (Klein 89) 

The poem is not merely a gory tale of a bloody battle; there are consequences to be had 
from battle for which no amount of gold can compensate. A man-against-man conflict, 


such as the ones described in the history and stories within the tale, is tragic; man against 
monster, Beowulf against Grendel, is adventurous and romantic. The poet or scribe 
composed a cautionary tale for his medieval Christian audience: "What the feminine voices 
of the poem do is gesture toward the possibility of a new model of heroism that redefines, 
and incorporates the energies of, preconversion Germanic heroism so as to being it more 
closely in line with the Christian worldview of the poem's readers" (Klein 88-89). The 
queens weave peace even in the face of impending battle between tribes, and it is their 
attempt to preserve culture that makes them heroic, as opposed to success in battle that is 
destructive to culture. 

Archetypes: Eve, Mary, Dual Mother 
The queens in Beowulfwere molded by the Beowulf 'poet or by the medieval scribes 
from classic archetypes, making them more than characters in a story — they work as 
examples of ideals of women in medieval culture. Queens either follow the archetype of 
Mary or Eve from the Bible, or, like Grendel's mother, become a parody as the inversion of 
Mary, according to Jane Chance. Because of the plight of peace-weaver as discussed 
previously, women in medieval tales often are seen as a mournful woman archetype, 
discussed by Joyce Hill. Grendel's mother and Wealhbeow together can be seen as Jung's 


idea of the archetype of the dual mother, according to Jeffrey Helterman. Enough scholars 
have studied female medieval characters as archetypes that it is clear the function of the 
queens in Beowulf 'is culturally significant. 

The precarious and tragic position of peaceweavers is an important example of an 
archetype of medieval literature: the grieving woman. Joyce Hill explains, "In heroic 
poetry... the dominant stereotype is that ofthegeomuru ides [sad or mournful woman]" 
(154). Hildeburh and the woman who mourns at Beowulf s funeral are examples, and we 
know from digressions that other queens will soon become mournful because of their 
situations. Women in cultures of violence and battle are usually victims, no matter how 
much indirect power they have: "the female (is) a figure of inaction and isolation, a victim 
of the destructive forces of "heroism," and a witness to the degradation of treasure — and of 
human (female) life — to the level of mere plunder" (Hill 161). Women survive the battle 
but mourn for their loved ones, women are stolen and given and traded without their 
consent, and women are subject to the male-centric culture of the heroic age, but this does 
not mean that female characters should be likewise sublimated because their tragic stories 
make them essential to the literary unity of the poem. Removing the female characters 
would result in a loss of tragic stories that are juxtaposed to the adventure story of 


monsters and a dragon; a human vs. monster story is put into perspective when compared 

to the human vs. human conflicts that occur on the edges of the poem. The mournful 

queens have heartbreaking stories that shed light on heroic culture; as survivors, they are 

harbingers of cautionary tales: 

The heroic code puts a premium on action and physical aggression and takes 
as indicators of power success in war and the acquisition of treasure, often 
by brutal means. But in the Old English tradition the consequences of such 
a code also stand revealed and it is partly through the female figures that 
this revelation is achieved... the sophistication of certain Anglo-Saxon poets' 
responses to that legendary material give woman a position of ethical and 
imaginative importance. (Hill 166) 

It is because the women have reason to be mournful that they are complex and interesting 

figures. Their stories reveal complications and issues of the heroic culture, making them 

essential literary figures. The queens' sad stories give them depth of character. 

Of course, in the Christian world of medieval England, there are no more important 

women than Mary and Eve. All women would strive to emulate the Madonna and not 

Eve — woman as instigator of original sin would serve as a cautionary tale. The queens in 

Beowulf likewise follow these common archetypes, explains Chance: "Anglo-Saxon woman's 

ideal secular role as peace-weaver or peace pledge was analogous to the Virgin's role as 

intermediary between man and God; in addition, the Virgin perfected all the secular roles 


available to women — maiden, wife, mother, virago" (65). Wealhbeow gracefully and gently 
intervenes to keep peace in the hall, much like Mary, who can keep peace between man and 
god. Freawaru, Hygd, and Hildeburh are also Mary-like because of their gentle demeanor; 
passive, obedient stance; and their support of the culture of the hall as positions as peace- 
pledges. The opposite example is Modbryoo, who instead of keeping the peace causes 
chaos, much like Eve: "For queens who did not remain chaste and acquiescent, there was a 
different model, one also found in the Bible — Eve" (Chance 65). Modbryoo was anything 
but acquiescent in the beginning of her digression, but eventually becomes more Madonna- 
like after marriage to Offa once she has a lord husband (1952). The situation is parallel to 
man's reconciliation to god through Jesus. An Anglo-Saxon audience would be familiar 
with both types of women and know how to consider each queen in the story by her 

An interesting archetypal example in Beowulf 'is Grendel's mother because she is 
actually the inversion of the Mary archetype. Although her status as a woman is sure 
because she is a mother and is described as ides, or royal woman, she is also described as a 
monster. Chance explains why: "Such a woman might be wretched or monstrous to an 
Anglo-Saxon audience because she blurs the sexual and social categories of roles. For 


example she abrogates to herself the masculine role of the warrior or lord" (97). Since 
Grendel's mother exacts revenge on her son and fights Beowulf, both the actions of male 
warriors, she is an unnatural queen; she does not conform to the cultural standards and 
protocols of women and queens. Grendel's mother is a foil to Wealhbeow, who is the 
perfect queen based on a Mary character: "Grendel's mother.. .is used as a parodic inversion 
of both the Anglo-Saxon queen and mother, the ideal of which was embodies in the Virgin 
Mary" (Chance 97). The Beowulf 'poet examines what it means to be a woman and a queen 
through the character of Grendel's mother; to be Madonna-like is admirable, and to be the 
opposite is monstrous and evil. The queens represent the ideal of womanhood in medieval 
culture, and the anti-queen is the antithesis of womanhood. 

Another way of considering Wealhbeow and Grendel's mother is as Jung's idea of 
the 'dual mother" since they are clear foils. Jeffrey Helterman explains that "Wealhbeow 
and Grendel's mother together form what Jung calls the dual mother" (13). The dual 
mother has two sides that together comprise a universal power, the nurturing, life- 
affirming side and the destructive, devouring side: "Wealhtheow represents woman in her 
ideal role as freothowebbe (peaceweaver)... Grendel's mother symbolizes the feud aspect of the 
web of peace" (Helterman 14). Wealhbeow is so nurturing and Grendel's mother is so 


destructive that together they represent the spectrum of motherly existence. Wealhbeow 
makes everyone welcome in her hall and Grendel's mother attacks Beowulf in her hall; 
With her words, Wealhbeow makes sure her sons are taken care of after Hroogar dies, and 
Grendel's mother gains revenge for her son's death with her claws and strength. Both have 
important identities as mothers, but they go about their mothering in opposite manners 
that exemplify Jung's idea of the dual mother. 

Each of the archetypes can be seen clearly in the queens of Beowulf, and because of 
this we know that the queens function as more than individual characters who support the 
men; they serve as cultural indicators in the medieval age, and they raise important 
questions as to what the role of queens is and should be in the heroic age. 

Gender Construction 

The Beowulf poet constructed the female characters in a way that raises questions 
about the nature of the feminine and the masculine. Wealhbeow, Hildeburh, and Freawaru 
are examples of women who are feminine, but Modbryoo and Grendel's mother are 
examples of masculine women, suggesting that sex and gender are not necessarily linked. 
Although Grendel's mother is a foe to Heorot and Modbryoo is discussed as a royal woman 
who behaved inappropriately, both characters are worthy of respect and awe because of their 


power. Hroogar, an elderly lord, is distinctly feminine; he cannot challenge Grendel 

himself, but allows Beowulf to fight his battle while he stays safe in his hall with the 

women. Characters either fight or influence: to be masculine is to take direct action and to 

be feminine is to be passive in this heroic age, but the Beowulf poet does not necessarily 

link these gender characteristics to biological sex. 

Modbryoo is a prime example of a masculine woman. Mary Dockray-Miller notes 

that Modbryoo takes control of her life in a world where women have little control: 

(Modthrytho) cannot merely be dismissed as an evil queen who becomes 
good after marrying the right man... her character both confirms and denies 
a masculine economy that depends on women as 

commodities... Modthrytho's masculine performance manages to subvert the 
usual use of women as objects in exchanges between men. ("Women") 

She is not punished for her masculine actions of killing men who look at her; although she 
is not an ideal queen because of her peace-rending instead of peace-weaving, Modbryoo is 
given a chance to become a good wife and proper queen, which she accepts. Dockray- 
Miller points out, though, that the diction the poet uses for Modbryoo's position as a 
queen is still active instead of passive ("Women"). 

Grendel's mother is perhaps more complex than the other queens because she is 
described as both a woman and a monster. She is a grieving mother who has lost her son; 


although she takes revenge, which is a masculine role, her mother's grief is a woman's grief. 
As noted before, she is constructed as the inverse of a proper queen: she takes revenge 
instead of peaceweaving, she is active instead of passive. By not acting as a queen should in 
almost every action, Grendel's mother raises questions as to what a woman should be: is a 
woman with masculine characteristics monstrous or sympathetic? 

Although all these specific points in feminist criticism of Beowulf can be debated, 
the point is that these female characters all have the potential for analysis. Two- 
dimensional characters do not. The queens were written and developed to have complex 
characters that resonate for an original or modern readership, and to translate them as 
insignificant characters because they are not involved in the adventure aspects of the story is 



Since most readers of Beowulf come to the story through a translator, readers accept 

the translator's attitudes towards the female characters as presented in subtleties of diction, 

syntax, and poetic device. A translator's own culture can have significant influence over his 

or her translation. Josephine Bloomfield of Ohio University analyses Frederick Klaeber's 

translation of Wealhbeow and finds that his own cultural biases toward women colored his 

interpretation. Klaeber was considered one of the world's leading experts on Beowulf, and 

his translations completed in the early 1900s were considered the most important and 

accurate. His translation was very influential to scholars and students. Yet, as Bloomfield 

notes, his version gives short shrift to Wealhbeow because he translates most adjectives 

describing her as "kind:" 

we see Wealhtheow's motivations regulated and her role transformed from 
peace weaver and power broker to tender maternal care-giver: her messages 
lost political significance and her deep understanding of tribal ritual 
becomes muted as her relationship with her husband and sons is altered by 
this series of uniform glosses to emphasize personal affection over tribal 
necessity. (184) 


Through the choice of a single word, Wealhbeow's character is marginalized and the 
position of a queen is minimized. Klaeber's mistranslation changes the interlace of the 
storyline to mirror gender roles of "nineteenth-century German bourgeois culture" (203); 
Klaeber "seems to have imposed concepts and relationships on the text — particularly in the 
areas of kingship, family, and gender roles — that cannot be found in the source text or the 
source culture" (184). The story of Beowulf 'may be part Anglo-Saxon and part Germanic, 
but it is not modern German, and to change characterization to fit the reader's own culture 
is unfortunate. Characters' identities should withstand any translation. Klaeber may have 
done this inadvertently, but the effect of his misreading changes the storyline and meaning 

The power of the translator is this great, that a single word mistranslated can have 
such an effect. Translators must walk a fine line between making a text accessible for a 
modern receptor audience and staying true to the author's intent, and every choice a 
translator makes for a text as old as Beowulfveers one way or the other. Sometimes choices 
marginalize the female characters, but in more recent times translators have deliberately 
made choices that might not adhere to the Anglo-Saxon grammar or syntax, but that 
definitely characterize the queens as they were written in Anglo-Saxon. 


Klaeber is not alone in his tendency to recreate characters in translation according 
to his own cultural beliefs. He changed adjectives so Wealhbeow would represent women 
of his own time: kind and maternal. Other translators refused to change anything, 
resulting in a literal translation that cannot represent the artistry in a poem. A literal 
translation of a poem so rich in figurative language cannot fully express the multi-layered 
meanings that make the poem great. 



An old adage concerning translation goes: translations are like women; they are 
either beautiful or faithful. Sexism aside, the sentiment expresses the translator's dilemma, 
especially the translator of poetry; should the translator aim for the precision of a line-by- 
line translation, or should the translator sacrifice exact content for the overall sense of the 
poem? Is content more important than aesthetics, form and poetic device? A poem's 
meaning is inextricably linked to its form and poetic device, and Beowulf 'is no exception. 
Since languages differ not only in vocabulary but also in grammatical structure and syntax, 
not to mention cultural innuendo and cultural assumptions in background knowledge, no 
translation will ever achieve perfection. As Eugene Nida, an expert in the field of 
translation studies, notes, "The total impact of a translation may be reasonably close to the 
original, but there can be no identity in detail" (153). Something will always be lost, and 
the translator's main task is to decide what can be sacrificed and what is essential to the 
poem's transmission to another culture. 

J.R.R. Tolkien argues that any translation of Beowulf could not match the beauty of 
the original, could not be transmitted to Modern English, and he makes a good point. The 


form, story, and language of the poem work together in Anglo-Saxon in a way that cannot 

be exactly reproduced in Modern English. Tolkien notes: 

No translation that aims at being readable in itself can, without elaborate 
annotation, proper to an edition of the original, indicate all the possibilities 
or hints afforded by the text. It is not possible, for instance, in translation 
always to represent a recurring work in the original by one given modern 
work. Yet the recurrence may be important. ("On Translating") 

Since no translation could do the poem justice, Tolkien believes, the only acceptable 

pretext for translating would be "to provide an aid to study." Otherwise, a translator is 

rewriting the poem, not translating it. Yet Tolkien wanted readers to learn Anglo-Saxon 

to fully appreciate Beowulf. Access to the poem therefore would be limited to scholars, and 

the text would remain almost as arcane as it was when discovered. Tolkien's assumptions 

are not practical today. 

Tolkien appreciated the beauty of Beowulf as a work of literature, one that could not 

be rendered into another language because it is a work of art. He respected the poetry: 

And therein lies the unrecapturable magic of ancient English verse for those 
who have ears to hear: profound feeling, and poignant vision, filled with the 
beauty and mortality of the world, are aroused by brief phrases, light 

1 Tolkien, instead of translating the text he adored, instead used Beowulf as the 
inspiration for his own fantastical tale, The Lord of the Rings. The character Gollum 
resembles Grendel, and, of course, there is the dragon with his hoard in each text. 


touches, short words resounding like harp-strings sharply plucked. ("On 

The poem's language is indeed condensed and symbolic and resonant, and few people in 

Tolkien's time appreciated its beauty. In his article "The Monsters and the Critics," 

Tolkien lambasts previous critics for only considering Beowulf important as a historical 

document and rejecting any notion of the poem as art since the critics did not hear the 

music of Tolkien's harp string, and so he subtly equated the critics with monsters in the 

title of his article. Tolkien did not like the way scholars treated the poem, both in study 

and in translation because no version at that time addressed the artistic beauty of Beowulf as 

a piece of art. 

Tolkien mentioned in as late as 1936 that Beowulf 'was only a curiosity for scholars: 

"Beowulf has been used as a quarry of fact and fancy more assiduously than it has been 

studied as a work of art.. .it is as an historical document that it has mainly been examined 

and dissected" (246). Tolkien lists the criticisms of many decades, including calling the 

poem "primitive," "feeble," "a wild folk-tale," "rude and rough," "weak in construction," 

"thin and cheap," "a burden to English syllabuses," and "the confused product of a 

committee of muddle-headed and probably beer-bemused Anglo-Saxons" (249). Although 


the poem had some admirers, it was not considered the masterpiece of literature it is today. 
Beowulf was widely misunderstood, misread, and abused in translation. 

The beauty of Beowulf can only be realized by those knowledgeable about medieval 
culture, otherwise it would indeed seem primitive. But the translator of any dead language 
such as Anglo-Saxon has a dilemma that is compounded by limited knowledge of the 
ancient culture. We have a few texts from Medieval England in Latin or Anglo-Saxon and 
can therefore hypothesize about the culture of that time, but our knowledge is limited, and 
the average reader does not know much about this time period that is so different from our 
own. For example, the Anglo-Saxon word we would use for boast, pryp-word, has no exact 
equivalence in English; pryp-word in the Bosworth-Toller Dictionary means "brave or 
noble speech," but translators often translate it as "boast." To boast, in 21 s Century 
America, is obnoxious. Germanic warriors didn't boast in our modern-day sense of the 
word. Having pride in our accomplishments and exuding confidence is acceptable, but we 
consider bold proclamations of our greatness to be immature and vulgar. In the Heroic 
Age, however, warriors were expected to extol great achievement, or otherwise they would 
seem weak. To simply insert the word "boast" in a translation gives the wrong idea to a 
contemporary audience, but there is not one word that encompasses the Anglo-Saxon idea. 


The translator can either include a lengthy footnote or change the structure of the poem to 

better represent the sense of the idea. Such decisions are almost impossible: 

The translator has to steer between extremes, between staying so close to 
the source that the new readership is alienated by unfamiliar concepts, 
forms or language, in short by that which is perceived to be "Other" and, at 
the opposite extreme, leaving the source so far behind in an attempt to 
satisfy the needs of that new readership that he or she may be accused of 
betrayal. (Bassnett) 

A translator will always be accused of some kind of betrayal, either of the text or of a 

readership. Beautiful or faithful, never both. 

Formal vs Dynamic Equivalence 

Eugene Nida defines this dilemma as the major issue in translation studies. He 
contrasts "formal equivalence," the faithfulness to the original language in terms of diction 
and grammar, and "dynamic equivalence," faithfulness to the spirit or sense of the poem. 
Beowulf translators who prefer formal equivalence favor line-by-line, almost word-by-word 
translations with copious footnotes to explain cultural connotation, complicated passages, 
or historical implication. Although such translations are handy for the student of Anglo- 
Saxon, they are little more than utilitarian: "it seems to be increasingly recognized that 


adherence to the letter may indeed kill the spirit" (158). Some past formal equivalence 
translations of Beowulf are inscrutable because of the "adherence to the letter," such as the 
1895 translation by William Morris and Alfred Wyatt, long ridiculed by Beowulf scholars. 

Dynamic equivalence translators value the unity of the poem over the syntax and 
grammatical structure. Unity, for our purposes, is the combination of diction, poetic 
device, form, sound, and story working together to create an experience. In a dynamic 
equivalence translation, a translator may take liberties with the original language to increase 
the readability for modern readers. In dynamic equivalence, "the relationship between 
receptor and message should be substantially the same as that which existed between the 
original receptors and the message" (Nida 156). The experience of the poem should be as 
close to the same for a contemporary reader as it was for the medieval reader as possible. 
The translator might replace "boast" with "confident in his accomplishments for good 
reason;" although longer and of a different grammatical structure, the reader understands 
the character as he was meant to be. There is no negative connotation. Since an average 
reader has little background in Anglo-Saxon culture, translation must involve transmission 
of culture, to some degree: "If his intended audience is not the Old English scholar, the 
translator of Beowulf can count on virtually no collaboration with his reader's memory" 


(Hudson 117). Formal equivalence places context in the footnotes, while dynamic 
equivalence blends context into the lines for a smoother reading experience. When a reader 
must constantly interrupt his or her reading to look at a footnote for comprehension, the 
story loses some of its interest. 

And publishers are ultimately concerned with the readers because readers buy 
books. The tendency currently is toward dynamic equivalence, to varying degrees. Seamus 
Heaney's 2000 translation takes many liberties with the language, to some critics' delight 
and to others' dismay. The translation sold many copies, and the Norton Critical Edition 
replaced E. Talbot Donaldson's formal equivalence translation with Heaney's dynamic 
equivalence translation in 2004. 

Heaney's intent is to give us the experience of Beowulf, not break down the 
component parts. Since a poem's essence is more than the sum of its parts, plot and form 
and poetic device, translators who focus on only the parts stifle the poem; translators who 

From the LA Times, April 25, 2000, an article by Martin Miller, about the sales of 
Heaney's Beowulf: "This is beyond anybody's expectations. It's just amazing," said Anne 
Coyle, a spokeswoman for Farrar, Straus and Giroux, known for its highbrow literature and 


focus on the unity or essence of the poem might sacrifice an adjective or syntax, but 

ultimately show more respect for the poem as a whole. 

Translation and Transformation 

Because of the obstacles any translator of Beowulf must face, the text can considered 

transformed more than it is translated. Grammar, diction, syntax, connotation, implication, 

poetic structure and pacing cannot all smoothly and accurately be converted into modern 

English. Something must give: "Translators must constantly make decisions about the 

cultural meanings which language carries.. .In fact the process of meaning transfer often has 

less to do with finding the cultural inscription of a term than in reconstructing its value" 

(Simon 138). Culture does not come through in a formal equivalence translation; it must 

be "reconstructed" through dynamic equivalence. The translation, then, cannot be seen as 

an exact replica of a text — it works together with the original, not as a replacement but as 

an addition: 

As regards the meaning, the language of a translation can — in fact must — 
let itself go, so that it gives voice to the intentio of the original not as 
reproduction but as harmony, as a supplement to the language in which it 
expresses itself, as its own kind of intentio. Therefore it is not the highest 
praise of a translation, particularly in the age of its origin, to say that it 
reads as if it had originally been written in that language. (Benjamin 81) 


Although we may not know the exact experience of an original audience, we do know that 
the female characters had agency. Formal equivalence translations will always fail to 
transmit the spirit of the poem; transformations can preserve the unity of Beowulf (or 
contemporary readers. 

Because most humanistic qualities of a strong poem cross language/cultural/time 
boundaries. Only the details can seem foreign. Translation superimposes domestic 
significance to a foreign text to make it seem less foreign. Lawrence Venuti states that "the 
translator negotiates the linguistic and cultural differences of the foreign text by reducing 
them and supplying another set of differences, basically domestic, drawn from the receiving 
language and culture to enable the foreign to be received there" ("Translation" 482). In 
order for a text to be relevant and understandable in Modern English, some foreign 
elements must be replaced with familiar "domestic" ones. The idea of an acceptable "boast" 
seems foreign in a respected hero, but confidence in a hero is familiar, so to really 
understand the hero Beowulf, the term must be modified. Then we admire him which is 
the experience of the original audience. Construction of a translation is akin to an art form 
because the translator's modification of an original text comes from his or her skill, 
experience, and character. 


The translator, like any artist, cannot help but instill his or her own personality in 
the translation: "some stamp of the translator's own mind and style upon the text is bound 
to be a part of the process of rewriting a literary work into a language other than its native 
one, and a firm stamp is sometimes preferable to a timid one" (Niles 859). The decision- 
making process stems from a person's character, education, skill, and experience, and 
immersing oneself in a text necessitates interpretation. Translation can never be objective, 
must always be subjective: "translation ceases to be a passive linguistic transfer from one 
language to another and becomes an active process influenced by the translator's identity, 
views of the world and environment" (An done 149). Someone does not undertake the 
translation of Beowulf without loving the poem, and the contribution of a new translation 
to the long list of versions of Beowulf involves bridging two cultures through one's own 
character: "The translator today is increasingly represented as negotiator, as inter-cultural 
mediator, as interpreter... Translation involves taking responsibility, for the translator is the 
person through whom a text passes on its journey from one context to another" (Bassnett). 
How a translator superimposes domestic familiarity onto the original text involves the 
hundreds of little decisions about language as any author or poet makes in composing 


Making effective decisions in the translation of Beowulf demands a vast knowledge 
of both languages and cultures, ancient and modern. The translator must know the Anglo- 
Saxon culture well to negotiate it for the reader. "The work of the translator is as much to 
understand this extraliterary frame, the mythos of the tribe and its signa sacra, as it is to 
work through the poem word by word.. .he must steep himself in whatever has an Anglo- 
Saxon, or even northern-medieval, smell to it" (Hudson 118). For although a translator 
must transform a text so it has domestic familiarity, he or she cannot lose sight of the fact 
that Beowulf 'is a medieval poem. Especially for Beowulf translators must understand the 
medieval world well enough to know how bridge the gap between the middle ages and the 
modern; transformation necessitates knowledge of culture so that it doesn't step over the 
line and become adaptation, bearing little resemblance to the original. The essence of the 
poem must remain medieval, and any tweaking of diction or form must take this into 

So change to the original text is inevitable, and there can be no true formal 
equivalence: "Transformation, as well as loss, is inevitable... the translator must become a 
dealer in equivalences rather than exactitudes" (Hudson 111). A translator, armed with the 
knowledge of both ancient and modern culture and languages, may even go so far as to 


enhance the original text for a better reading experience: "the translator illumines, clarifies, 

even fulfills meanings latent in the original; in certain instances, he may surpass the 

original" (Hudson 115). Transmission of a poem from one culture to another is a delicate 

process, and if a translator is skilled enough, he or she can modify the original text in a way 

that retains the medieval feel of the poem while making it accessible and beautiful for 

modern readers. 

The Political Agenda of Translation 

Any text has an agenda, and translations do even more so than most. Why does a 

translator choose a particular text? Why do they make the decisions they do in the process 

of translation? Why would a translator choose formal equivalence or dynamic equivalence? 

Most importantly, how domestic should a translation become, or how foreign should a 

translation remain? The latter question has ethical implications: 

translation has moved theorists toward an ethical reflection wherein 
remedies are formulated to restore or preserve the foreignness of the foreign 
text... This ethical attitude is therefore simultaneous with a political agenda: 
the domestic terms of inscription become the focus of rewriting in the 
translation. (Venuti 483) 

A translator's purpose in translation of a specific text determines what the original text will 

become. A formal equivalence translator may focus on the plot or history in Beowulf, while 


a dynamic equivalence translator may be concerned with the sound and sense of the poem. 

Each considers his or her translation to be ethically appropriate because of the purpose of 


A translation's readership decides if that translation is relevant or worthwhile. The 

translation has to be important to a reading audience: 

A translation aims to produce a new text that matters to one community 
the way another text matters to another: but it is part of our understanding 
of why texts matter that this is not a question that convention settles; 
indeed, it is part of our understanding of literary judgment, that there can 
always be new readings, new things that matter about a text, new reasons 
for caring about new properties. (Appiah 397) 

A translator of Beowulf takes an ancient text and makes it new for an audience, and that 

audience in a different time period and culture may react to the text in new and unexpected 

ways. Just as there is always new scholarship on Shakespeare, new ways to perceive and 

analyze his plays, there will always be new ways of looking at Beowulf 'because the poem is 

rich and resonates with questions of human existence. The way the poem is translated 

plays a crucial part in a new audience's take on the poem. 


Cultural Turn and Feminist Translation 

An important modern method of interpretation is feminist criticism, and Beowulf 'is 
ripe for such interpretation because of its complex characters and rich world built by the 
original poet. I would argue that any modern day translator is a feminist translator because 
he or she would not dismiss the female characters as extraneous even if the female 
characters weren't given agency; they are clearly essential to the poem's meaning and they 
are interesting in and of themselves. The women's movement of the 1960's and 1970's 
changed the way our western culture perceives the position of women in society. The 
gender divide is no longer an issue any scholar can ignore, according to Oana-Helena 
Andone: "feminist ideology ...acknowledges the tensions between masculine and feminine 
identities and strives to make feminine identity visible in language" (136). Wealhbeow is 
more than just Hroogar's wife, and her identity and worth as an individual is clear in the 
original Anglo-Saxon. Whether or not it is clear in a modern translation depends on the 
sensitivity of the translator. A feminist translator is sensitive to the effect of language in 
the creation of an individual character both in the original and modern language: "In 
feminist translation theory, language interferes actively in the creation of meaning. 
Language does not only mirror reality but contributes to its creation" (Andone 143). A 


translator can create a complex Wealhbeow or an insignificant wife, and through language 

choices, the reality of the character is set. 

Translation of Beowulf utilizing feminist theory is a relatively new undertaking. 

Feminism was not applied to translation studies until the early 1990s: 

The 'cultural turn' in Translation Studies designates the move towards the 
analysis of translation from the perspective of cultural studies... the 
understanding of translation has changed, and it is seen as an activity which 
may create or destabilize cultural identities and thus become a new mode of 
cultural creation. (Andone 135) 

Translators now would not think of ignoring the implications of culture in the process of 
translation. The position of women in the world of Beowulf and the position of women in 
modern-day culture must be considered — otherwise, a translation with shallow, two- 
dimensional female characters will result, since in our patriarchal society women 
traditionally have been seen as secondary. 

The process of translation has necessarily changed because of the "cultural turn" as 
defined by Andone. We can no longer impose our own assumptions of patriarchy on every 
text regardless of original culture: "...the process of reclaiming the past for 
women... (reevaluating) an uncontested vision of the world, past and present, as dominated 
by great men... is mirrored in the revisions to the history of translation practice and in a 


reevaluation of what translation means" (Bassnett). To translate a female character from 
medieval culture into modern-day culture must involve analysis of the position of women 
in both cultures, and only then can informed and sensitive translation choices be made that 
respect the worth of the character in the text. We cannot assume that Wealhbeow was a 
passive queen figure. To translate in modern times means to negotiate cultural 
assumptions and implications. 

Such negotiation is an intricate and personal process. A translator cannot remove 
himself or herself from the translation because as noted before, the decisions a translator 
makes stem from his or her experience and character and even gender: "Gender awareness 
in translation has brought about a revision of another concept — the so-called invisibility of 
the translator... They can no longer accept to function as the transparent channel which 
does not leave any mark on the target text" (Andone 147). The identity of a translator will 
bleed through in their translation. A male translator may make very different choices than 
a female translator, and an expert in Anglo-Saxon history may make different choices than 
a poet. How medieval female characters are reconstructed in Modern English depends on 
the identity of the translator, their knowledge, assumptions, and agenda, as we saw with 


Klaeber. The translator will never be able to remove himself or herself from the 


The "cultural turn" changed the entire way we view the translation of a text. What 

it is to be "faithful" and "beautiful" has changed: 

Whereas fidelity has traditionally been analyzed in terms of word-for-word 
vs. sense-for-sense translation, feminist theory views fidelity as directed 
toward neither the author not the reader but toward the "writing project". 
The project involves both the author and the translator. The translation 
project is not a carrying across, but a reworking of the meaning. 
(Andone 144) 

Translation is not just about the text, but about the original author and the translator, also. 

How all three work together determine the "faithfulness" and the "beauty." 

Differing Philosophies of Translators 

Formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence translators have opposing translation 
methodologies. The agenda of a formal equivalence translator is to convey Anglo-Saxon 
history and language; such translators have immersed themselves in the details of medieval 
life and the grammar of Anglo-Saxon. Dynamic equivalence translators tend to remake the 


lines and add context for Anglo-Saxon passages that are difficult enough to demand hard 

choices and which cannot be transmitted smoothly: 

here the translator-imitator may find justification for his liberties. But, 
obviously, to travel on this path with any success the translator must be a 
good poet in his own right... (Ezra) Pound and many others have revealed 
that fidelity can sometimes be achieved through what some would consider 
licentious freedom. (Hudson 113) 

So a dynamic equivalence translator's freedom and creativity with language in translating 

Beowulf might actually turn out more faithful than a precise and exact formal equivalence 

version. Donaldson, whose version was used in the Norton edition for decades, chose 

precision over beauty: "Donaldson steadfastly declines to resolve these questions creatively. 

His method is so literal as to seem artless" (Niles 868). How ironic: to be faithful and 

respectful to the poem, sometimes one has to deviate from exacting precision. 

But this is the nature of poetry — the balance of beauty and meaning. To 

completely sacrifice the beauty and the rhythm of the poem for the sake of word-for-word 

precision is to fail to see the forest for the trees. It is not unscrupulous to veer away from a 

strict and literal interpretation of a section of the poem if doing so preserves the beauty or 

the reading experience or the overall sense: 


The argument that a domesticating translation strategy is somehow 
unethical, because it elides signs of foreignness in the text becomes untenable 
once we start to look at translation as process... a translator who reveres the 
source so much that the needs of readers are secondary, is unlikely to find a 
responsive audience. (Bassnett) 

The reader should be of foremost concern to a translator. Beowulf 'is more than the sum of 

its parts, grammar and vocabulary and plot, and the most important element in the 

transmission of the text from Anglo-Saxon to modern English must be the reader. A 

translator needs to remember that he or she is translating and publishing for an audience, 

not as an academic exercise. Why else bother to translate? 



There are hundreds of translations of Beowulf: complete translations, fragments, 
digressions, in German, English, Spanish, and other languages. We have been fascinated by 
this Anglo-Saxon text hidden away for centuries and then almost accidentally burned up in 
a fire. Since there is only one copy of the text and since the author and provenance are 
unknown, we can only speculate about many facets of the text and the history behind the 
text. As mentioned before, J.R.R. Tolkein's famous essay "The Critics and the Monsters" 
admonished the scholars who considered the epic poem of more historical significance than 
literary, defending the integrity of the poem as a complex and masterful work of literature. 
As a historical artifact the poem provides information of a previous culture, but as a poem 
Beowulf is enjoyable and enlightening. Although older translations are more interested in 
the history and grammar of the text, more modern translators clearly take joy in the artful 
language and the story of the poem. 

John M. Kemble was the first to translate the whole of Beowulf into English. He 
was a scholar and historian at Cambridge University in England, and his complete 
translation was first published in 1833. Since he was the first he had no models for 


comparison, he was not influenced by any predecessors, and his purpose was to give the 

basic sense of the poem: 

The translation is a literal one; I was bound to give word for word, the 
original in all its roughness: I might have made it smoother, but I purposely 
avoided doing so, because had the Saxon poet thought as we think, and 
expressed his thoughts as we express our thoughts, I might have spared 
myself the trouble of editing or translating his poem, (i) 

He wanted to maintain the sense of foreignness in the poem, not turn it into a modern 
equivalent. Kemble's version was in prose because he was more concerned with the story 
and how it was told than the poetry. His aim was historical and academic to make the text 
accessible to students. He made huge strides in contributing to the study of the Anglo- 
Saxon language: "The Glossary, I hope, will be found to contain every word which occurs in 
the poem, and it contains many which are not found there, because I thought that it might 
some day serve as a foundation for a Dictionary of the Saxon Poetic language" (ii). Kemble 
fulfilled his purpose; he created a rough yet grammatically accurate translation of a poem 
that had not been read in Modern English before as an academic historical exercise. 
Kemble began a long tradition of translating Beowulf. Many other complete 
translations followed, both in prose and in verse. William Morris and Alfred John Wyatt 
created a translation in verse using archaic language; their version is confusing and 


awkward, sounding more humorous than heroic because of the form, and it was ridiculed 

by most Anglo-Saxon scholars. Early translators of Beowulf were necessarily academics 

because Anglo-Saxon, as a dead language, was studied in universities in history 

departments. Their aim was the study of the poem, not recreational reading. Tolkein's 

essay was indeed aimed at such scholars. 


Another influential scholar who translated Beowulf 'is Howell Chickering, a 

professor at Amherst. His aim was to be true to the grammatical language: 

My translation takes a few liberties from time to time, but for the most part 
it gives the plain sense of the original or, when a literal translation would be 
unclear, the intended meaning as I see it. By not trying to imitate the 
alliteration and other audible features of the facing original, I was able to 
concentrate on reproducing the poetic ordering of parts, sentence by 
sentence, (x) 

By ignoring poetic devices, Chickering could focus fully on keeping the syntax and 

structure parallel to the original; in fact, in Chickering's version the Anglo-Saxon is on the 

left and his translation is on the right, directly across the pages from each other. The 

An example of Morris and Wyatt translation, when Wealhbeow speaks to Hroogar: "I 
ween that good-will yet this man will be yielding / To our offspring that be after us, if he 
mind him / of all that which we two, for good-will and for worship, / Unto him erst a 
child yet have framed of kindness." 


translation, due to this arrangement, is supported by the original text. The book is helpful 
for students of Beowulf 'because of the closeness of original and translation. His dedication 
to individual lines and words, though, makes the text somewhat inaccessible to casual 
readers; the tight terseness of Anglo-Saxon poetry is not elegant in modern English. 
Chickering made the deliberate decision to focus on language over meaning: "I felt I could 
leave the more complex connotations for the commentary as long as the translation did not 
sound overblown... I know only too well how annotation can deaden the very things it was 
meant to illuminate" (xii). He sacrificed the sense of the poem for "correctness;" teaching 
students to translate Anglo-Saxon involves more rote skill than creativity, as does this 
version of the poem. 

In addition to translating the poem himself, Chickering reviewed many other 
translations, including E. Talbot Donaldson and Seamus Heaney, translators to be 
discussed later. From his critiques we can see his own formal equivalence tendencies. 
Chickering comments that "A poetic form... must be an improvement over prose" 
("Donaldson's" 779), criticizing Donaldson's choice of prose over poetry; Chickering's own 
version is in verse. Overall Chickering admires Donaldson's version, though. Of 
Donaldson's very literal translation he says: 


In choosing to be literal, and choosing prose, Donaldson shows a humility 
which is not only downright attractive by contrast, but, more importantly, 
comes from being a finely perceptive reader of the Anglo-Saxon. 
("Donaldson's" 775) 

Chickering believes that a literal, word-for-word and line-by-line translation shows 

"humility" because Donaldson could have used his skills to deviate from the original syntax. 

I am not sure how adhering to a medieval grammatical structure instead of to the poetry 

and unity if the poem shows humility — it is a conscious choice made by a translator, 

sacrificing one aspect for another. I also am not sure how replacing Modern English words 

for Anglo-Saxon words for the sake of literalness makes Donaldson a "perceptive reader," 

but Chickering also admires Donaldson's formal equivalence translation methods, which are 

very similar to his own. 


E. Talbot Donaldson was a scholar translator very much like Chickering. A 

professor at Yale, he received many honors as an American Medievalist. He was considered 

such an expert that Norton adopted his translation for their critical edition in 1975. Like 

Chickering, Donaldson focused his efforts on diction and grammar over sense: 

it has seems best to translate as literally as possible, confining oneself to the 
linguistic and intellectual structure of the original. It is perfectly true that a 


literal translation such as this is bound to result in a style of modern 
English prose that was never seen before on land or sea and is not apt to be 
again, (xi) 

Donaldson admits that his translation is awkward and inelegant due to his strict adherence 

to the "linguistic and intellectual structure of the original." His aim as a medievalist is to 

present the information in the text in as close a form to the original as possible, and 

provide copious footnotes for clarification. The style and beauty of the poem are of 

secondary concern; Donaldson's aim is to provide a literal version for study in a classroom, 

leaving context and figurative language as the responsibility of the student. He knew the 

consequences of choosing a literal prose translation: 

If... a verse translation does not try to be a poem in its own right, then it 
can only be versification, a literal rendering constantly distracted from 
literalism by the need to versify, as a more creative translation is constantly 
distracted from literalism by the translator's creativity. Rather than try to 
create a new and lesser poem for the reader, it seems better to offer him in 
prose the literal materials from which he can re-create the poem, (xiii) 

Donaldson's assumption that any translation in verse would be a "lesser poem" is telling; 
that a translator would weaken the poem with "creativity" belies his bias toward 
information over art. The consummate scholar, Donaldson wanted to publish a version of 
Beowulf for study instead of for pleasure reading. 


In the mid-twentieth century, however, a different population began to take notice 
of the poem. This interest may have come about because the poem gained respect for its 
sophistication along with its historical import; Tolkein's message of the importance of the 
poem as an artistic creation finally got through. The new translators' efforts with Anglo- 
Saxon poetry changed the way the poem was perceived. It became a text to read for 
pleasure as much as a text for study in a university. Dynamic equivalence translators had a 
different focus: poetic style and reader reception, as opposed to historical and grammatical 


Edwin Morgan was such a translator. His 1952 translation of Beowulf is quite 

different from previous translations by academics, which Morgan disliked: 

not one of these has succeeded in establishing itself as a notable 
presentation, even for its own period, of a great original... Nothing has been 
found, therefore, in these Beowulf translations to interest either the 
practicing poet or the cultivated reader of poetry, unless his aim is simply to 
find out what the poem deals with, and that would be more safely and easily 
got from a prose version, (vii) 

Morgan's theory of translating Beowulf 'is not that of a historian. He was concerned with 
the reader more than with historical accuracy, with the language and beauty of the poetry 


more than a "dry, torpid" retelling of the story. Because of this he embraced dynamic 
equivalence rather than formal equivalence, giving him more power to mold words into a 
beautiful and energetic poem: "The lines must be able to contract to terseness, and expand 
to splendor" (xvi). Even Morgan's description of his translation has beauty. Morgan 
eschewed archaisms but kept the four-stress meter, giving the poem the sense and texture 
of the original but not reminding the reader that the poem is ancient instead of present and 
relevant. A reader needs no footnotes or dictionary or knowledge of Anglo-Saxon to read 
and understand the epic because Morgan blended such information into the poem itself. 

Poet Marc Hudson is similarly concerned with poetic elements in his 1990 
translation. Reminiscent of Tolkein's insistence that Beowulf is first and foremost a work of 
literature, Hudson states, "to ignore the rhythm and the aural patterning of the verses is to 
betray Beowulf s artistry" (122). Hudson has an ear for the poetry of the epic and so 
embraces dynamic equivalence in order to maintain the poetic elements and create a sense 
of the poem that might not be as "accurate" as a word-for-word rendering but has the same 
feel and texture of the original. Hudson adds words and makes changes in his translation 
to develop "more accurate music of the line.. .For the spirit and not the literal, inanimate 


letter.. .The outcome of the whole game depends, finally, on the tact and accuracy of the 

translator's intuitions" (167). Both Hudson's and Morgan's dynamic equivalence 

translation methodologies allow the reader a greater sense of what the experience of the 

original was for the original audience. Hudson comments on his process: 

The four-stress line, the diction of a higher tone, the resolution of kennings 
into phrases, the fidelity to the rhetorical figures and to the contemplative 
character of the poem — these represent controlling biases that informed my 
choices, providing the work as a whole with a unity it would not have 
otherwise possessed. (159) 

The "unity" Hudson refers to incorporates poetic elements and story details to create an 
overall sense of the original, which was not just a story but a creation of a world, not just 
information about a situation but an experience for the reader. The four-stress line of the 
poem is an essential part of the sound of the lines. The Beowulf 'poet deliberately chose this 
form to provide flow to the story, and to remove it from a translation would be like 
rewriting Shakespeare's sonnets without iambic pentameter. The terse, condensed lines are 
part of the experience of reading this poem, and to translate without using this form 
implies that the information and historical significance is more important than the 


exquisite artistry of Beowulf. The same can be said of the kennings and rhetorical figures 
Hudson insists are necessary for the "unity" of the translation. 

The most famous contemporary translation of Beowulf is by the Irish poet Seamus 
Heaney. He strongly believes that Beowulf 'is of cultural importance not because of 
historical aspects but because the poem's relevance to us today as great literature: "Its 
narrative elements may belong to a previous age but as a work of art it lives in its own 
continuous present, equal to our knowledge of reality the present time" (ix). The poem is 
relevant and the narrative resonates for a modern day reader, according to Heaney. He 
translated for the contemporary reader, not for an Anglo-Saxon scholar. His book was first 
published in 2000 to great acclaim and was adopted by Norton to replace Donaldson in the 
Norton Critical Edition of Beowulf. This shift in the Norton Critical Edition is indicative 
of the recent trend in translation of the epic; in order to keep the text alive, poet 
translators have taken up the challenge and have translated with a contemporary audience 
in mind. Heaney purported to recreate the experience of the poem for readers today, and 
to do so, he felt free to make certain changes: 

Seamus Heaney's translation won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 2000. 


I have not followed the strict metrical rules that bound the Anglo-Saxon 
scop. I have been guided by the fundamental pattern of four stresses to the 
line, but I allow myself several transgressions. For example, I don't always 
employ alliteration, and sometimes I alliterate only in one half of one line. 
When these breeches occur, it is because I prefer to let the natural "sound 
of sense" prevail over the demands of the convention. I have been reluctant 
to force an artificial shape or unusual word choice just for the sake of 
correctness, (xxix) 

Like Marc Hudson, Heaney translated in a manner that respects the artistry and ignores 

"convention" to that end. He makes decisions to create a naturalness in the poem for his 

readers, creating an easy flow in the storyline with few arcane references, instead of 

distracting readers with a sense of foreignness. 

An example Heaney uses to explain his translation method is the first word of the 

poem, "Hwaet." Literally the word in Anglo-Saxon means "what." But the idea of 

beginning a tale with "what" doesn't work in modern English: 

Conventional renderings of hwaet, the first word of the poem, tend towards 
the archaic literary, with "lo" and "hark" and "behold" and "attend" and — 
more colloquially — "listen" being some of the solutions offered previously. 
But in Hiberno-English Scullionspeak, the particle "so" came naturally to 
the rescue, because in that idiom "so" operates as an expression which 
obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time 
functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention, (xxvii) 


Heaney could have used the direct translation of "what" and then included a long footnote 
to explain the etymology of the word and how we culturally have accepted a different idiom 
to gather attention and begin a story apropos of nothing, but the pleasure reader doesn't 
care. The reader knows what the word "So" represents and can continue on with the poem 
with interest instead of tedium. "So" is direct and to the point, and fits easily into the 
sound or music of the Anglo-Saxon poetry: "What I was after first and foremost was a 
narrative line that sounded as if it meant business, and I was prepared to sacrifice other 
things in pursuit of this directness of utterance" (xxix). The sacrifice of the etymology of 
"what" is not a great loss. 

Howell Chickering's review of Heaney's translation was not flattering. Chickering 
admits that "For fidelity to both the letter and spirit of the original, it is a resounding but 
mixed success, with some awkward missteps" ("HeaneywulP 162); his acknowledgement of 
Heaney's success is heavily qualified. Chickering calls Heaney's freedom in verse translation 
full of "overcooked imagery and bumping alliteration" ("Heaneywulf 168). He also does 
not like the fact that Heaney used 12 words of Ulster origin because Chickering thought 
Heaney was writing for himself and not for a non-Ulster audience, calling it "bad cultural 
and linguistic history" ("Heaneywulf 173). Here we see Chickering's bias: linguistics. As 


for Heaney's readers, 12 words will not confuse the text's meaning, and they provide a sense 
of texture in the poetic language of Beowulf, which is not supposed to be ordinary language. 
As a formal equivalence translator, Chickering is suspect of Heaney's dynamic equivalence 
version and the new model of making the original text new again. 

Chickering was not the only translator to criticize his colleagues. Each translator I 
examined, from Kemble to Heaney, commented on his translation philosophies and why 
his was best in a forward or introduction. The trend toward dynamic equivalency was 
resisted by many translators at first but now seems to be the default method of translation 
of Beowulf. A close look at the original Anglo-Saxon lines reveals why Donaldson's version 
is no longer relevant and why Heaney's version is this generation's accepted translation. 



The formal equivalence translators and dynamic equivalence translators have 
different purposes, the former to preserve information and the latter to provide an 
authentic reading experience, but they are both translating for a reading audience. A closer 
examination of Donaldson's and Heaney's words serves as a useful gauge; they can represent 
each group of translators (formal and dynamic), they are each acclaimed for their 
translations, and each was adopted by the Norton Critical Edition. A close textual analysis 
of how each translator approached the female characters through use of diction, poetic 
device, and elaboration reveals the difference in their methods; female characters are 
marginalized in the formal equivalency of the scholars, and they are rightfully given agency 
in the dynamic equivalency of the poets. 

Donaldson specifically chose to write his translation in prose so that a reader 
wouldn't be distracted from the information of the poem by the form of a "lesser poem." 
He divides his translation into sections with descriptive headers that explain what will 
happen. Donaldson uses modern paragraphing but within each sentence he uses many 
commas that mirror the phrasing of the original lines. He tries to keep the syntax as close 


to the original as possible. The result is an awkward and rambling sentence structure that 
becomes tedious to read, as well as vague or confusing, as we will see. It is not 
representative of the artistry of the original. 

Seamus Heaney does just the opposite. He is concerned not only with the storyline 
but with how the form and devices in the poetry support the epic. To show the original 
form, Heaney places the original text opposite the translation in his book. He does this so 
that the reader never forgets it is a translation of an medieval and Germanic epic, a foreign 
text. The juxtaposition also allows the translation to lean on the strength of the Anglo- 
Saxon original, which tempers the liberalness of his translation: although the words in each 
line might not be parallel, readers can see the tempo and structure of the source text. Even 
though the reader might not know Anglo-Saxon, he or she knows the feel of the poem just 
by viewing the lines. Heaney's translation brings the epic into the modern age for smooth 
readability, but the parallel text roots it firmly in the medieval age. 


Wealhbeow is always present before and after Beowulf s battles as a representative of 
her people. She comments on the situation and offers encouragement and warnings. We 
see her wielding power with words instead of swords. As Hroogar's queen she has an 


exalted and influential position in the hall, and as she warns Beowulf, the men of the hall 
will gladly do her bidding. Yet Donaldson's strict attention to word and line in his 
translation make Wealhbeow seem two-dimensional and weaker than she is, though — her 
strong character and power do not survive a formal equivalence translation. Heaney's words 
do allow Wealhbeow the power and character of her queenship. Instead of limiting himself 
to the precise diction and syntax, Heaney uses his poetic skills to work with the original 
text and represent its sense and ideas to a modern audience. Donaldson's translation is 
meant to be studied; Heaney's is meant to be savored. 

We first meet Wealhbeow when Beowulf comes to offer his services to Hroogar (see 
app. Al-3). She enters the hall after the feast has begun and completes her duties as a 
queen. Donaldson's translation makes her duties seem that of a hostess, merely Hroogar's 
servant, while Heaney's translation allows her the potency and ability befitting her station. 

Gold, to the people of this heroic age, is representative of much more than 
wealth — it is a status symbol, a symbol of courage and heroism, and implies power and 
authority. A person obtains gold by violence or by the favor of a rich leader. The Beowulf 
poet used the metal to signify much more than treasure, especially as concerns the queens. 
The most telling phrase is goldhroden in line 6 14 and 640 used to describe Wealhbeow 


when she enters the hall. This term is used four times in the epic to describe Wealhbeow, 
Freawaru, and Modthrith, all royal women. The Bosworth and Toller Anglo-Saxon 
Dictionary defines goldhroden as "gold-adorned," an adjective. Precise to a fault, 
Donaldson uses this definition in his translation. The word hroden means laden or 
ornamented, an adjective describing a passive object that has been embellished. The 
connotation of hroden makes Wealhbeow into an object to be displayed in the hall, an 
extension of Hroogar's wealth and status. It negates Wealhbeow's status. However, as 
discussed previously, Germanic queens held positions of status that made them politically 
astute, and in the role of peace-weaver a queen played subtle politics in order to keep the 
peace in the hall and among tribes. Since Wealhbeow is both, she is clearly not a 
mannequin used to display Hroogar's gold — the gold actually represents her own power and 
stature. Heaney's translation of goldhroden as "adorned in her gold" in line 614 makes much 
more sense for today's reader. The possessive pronoun "her" changes Wealhbeow's position 
and character drastically. Then, when we come to line 640, the term "arrayed with gold" 
follows the description "regal," reinforcing the idea that Wealhbeow is queen with a queen's 
power, represented by her riches. 

1 All definitions from this point forward will be from The Bosworth and Toller Anglo- 
Saxon Dictionary. 


Gold again is an issue when Wealhbeow speaks to Hroogar after the first battle in 
line 1162 (see app. Bl-3); Wealhbeow walks into the hall under gyldnum beage. A beage is a 
crown or ring, and Donaldson translates the phrase as "under gold crown." The ownership 
of the crown is vague; it could be any crown or piece of jewelry. However, Wealhbeow is 
about to speak firmly to Hroogar and ensure the succession of the tribe, so Heaney's 
translation "in her gold crown" is more suitable, because the possessive pronoun reminds 
the reader of her position and power; she can and will influence Hroogar and Beowulf. She 
owns the queenship instead of the queenship owning her, and her gold crown is 
representative of her authority in the hall. Heaney looks past the literal words to see 
symbolism and implication that Donaldson misses. 

The way Wealhbeow is described by the narrator is another matter that clearly 
reveals the difference in Heaney's and Donaldson's translations. When Wealhbeow first 
acknowledges the men in the hall she is acting as a proper queen; the Anglo-Saxon word 
grette (line 614) has a number of definitions in Bosworth and Toller, including speak, call 
upon, hail, greet, welcome, salute, and bid farewell. Donaldson chose the definition that 
sounds similar: "greeted." To greet is to simply say hello, a pedestrian action made 
everyday in all walks of life. Heaney chose the definition "saluted," which is a wholly 


different gesture; "saluted" has military connotations, which would befit the leader of a 
group of warriors. It is also a gesture of respect, buttressing the bonds between a close 
tribe and a leader. Later in the poem the suggestion that the men will fight for their queen 
(1230) supports the position of queen-as-commander. 

A further description of Wealhbeow in this section is that ofwisfiest wordum; wisfost 
is defined as wise, discreet, or judicious, and the dictionary entry makes a note that in the 
case of line 626 in Beowulf 'it applies to people (see app. Al-3). Wordum means of words, 
so the description of Wealhbeow is a woman who speaks wisely and judiciously, a 
consummate politician. Donaldson's translation is "sure of speech" and Heaney's is "With 
measured words," two different ideas; "sure of speech" implies confidence, but leaves out 
any idea of wisdom or skill. "With measured words" implies thought and caution, very 
appropriate for a situation in which an unknown warrior shows up with his band of 
warriors. Heaney is describing a politician; Donaldson is describing a figurehead. 

Wealhbeow' s speech to Hroogar beginning in line 1168 is introduced with Spr<ec Ba 
ides Scyldinga: (see app. Bl-3). Donaldson translated this literally to mean "Then the 
woman of the Scyldings spoke." Yet the word ides complicates this line; Bosworth and 
Toller note that the noun is used mainly in poetry. Ides does not mean any woman, but is 


used for women of high standing, as Joyce Hill explains in her article "pact Wxs Geomuru 
Ides!" Donaldson's translation gives ownership of Wealhbeow to the Scyldings, but a 
woman of high standing would not have this sense of being an object that is owned; rather, 
she is one of their leaders. Donaldson's grammatically faithful sentence does not reveal 
Wealhbeow's character. Heaney translates this line simply: "The queen spoke." The reader 
immediately remembers that this is a woman of authority, and so her words gain weight 
and significance. Hroogar will listen to her, because she is not any woman, she is his 
queen. Also interesting is that the poet did not use the work mapelode but spree: the verb 
mapelode, meaning "said," is commonly used to introduce dialogue or monologue. Spree, 
"spoke," is much more formal and commanding in Modern English, emphasizing the 
formality and significance of Wealhbeow's speech. 

Wealhbeow's final public speech, given when Beowulf leaves to sail home, is to 
thank him, wish him luck, and give him valuable gifts (see app. Cl-3). As a queen she has 
the power to give the gifts of a gold ring and a mail shirt from the tribe's hoard. The word 
mapelode from line 1215 is translated by Donalsdon as "spoke" and by Heaney as 
"pronounced," two very different verbs. To speak is merely to talk, but to pronounce is to 
make a truth known to a large group of people. As queen, Wealhbeow is in a position to 


act in such a formal and ritual way: the gifts and wishes come from the entire tribe instead 
of from just herself. 

After her pronouncement, Wealhbeow leaves the center of the stage — Eode pa to 
setle (1232). The simple action of walking back to Hroogar has dissimilar connotation in 
the different way it is translated: Donaldson's version is "Then she walked to her seat" and 
Heaney's is "She moved then to her place." Setle does mean seat, but it is too general a 
definition in this specific line. Again, everyone in the hall has a seat, but only a queen or 
king has a "place." A queen's place is next to the king in a representative position of power, 
possibly a head table higher than the rest. Wealhbeow gains gravitas when we are reminded 
of her power and authority in this way — it is indeed her place to speak to Beowulf on 
behalf of all the people. 

Wealhbeow' s own words are translated to present her either as a weak woman or a 
queen with agency. When Wealhbeow admonishes Hroogar to remember his sons after he 
suggests giving Beowulf an inheritance in line 1168 (see app. Bl-3), she must be an 
effective peaceweaver, because to give the leadership of a tribe to an outsider would cause 
conflict and bloodshed. Additionally, she wants to make sure her kin, and through them, 


herself, retains control. She must speak carefully and diplomatically. A simple conjunction 

in this speech changes Wealhbeow's character. In her admonition to Hroogar, she says, 

bruc penden pu mote 

manigra medo, ond pinum magum Iteffolc ond rice. 

Donaldson translates: "Enjoy while you may many rewards, and leave your kinsmen folk 

and kingdom." The ond does mean "and," but Heaney liberally translates it as "but:" 

Relish their company, but recollect as well 

all of the boons that have been bestowed on you. 

The slight shift of conjunction gives Wealhbeow's words an ominous feeling; Donaldson's 

translation focuses on the word "Enjoy," a positive and happy word, while Heaney's lines 

focus on the word "recollect" as a threat since the conjunction "but" shows contrast instead 

of similarity. Donaldson's Wealhbeow is polite and soft — Heaney's Wealhbeow is bold and 


Heaney also gives Wealhbeow's words a sense of drama through his use of anaphora 

in lines 1180-83 (see app. Bl-3). Although not a device used in Beowulf, anaphora is used 

in modern English poetry to create a heightened feeling of tension — the repetition 


emphasizes specific lines and sets them apart from the rest. Wealhbeow is making a case 

for keeping the tribe's power in the family: 

I am certain of Hrothulf 
He is noble and will use the young ones well. 
He will not let you down. Should you die before him, 
He will treat our children truly and fairly. 
He will honour, I am sure, our two sons 

The repetition of "He" highlights the idea that Hrobulf, not Beowulf, will do what is best 
for the hall. Heaney shows Wealhbeow as a queen capable of wielding words to control a 
difficult situation; Hroogar has made a poor suggestion, and his queen lets him know it. 

Heaney continues to allow Wealhbeow strength in the phrase "I am sure" from 
above. Donaldson translates the words Ic minne can as "I think" instead. Can means "I 
know." The connotation of "I think" is uncertainty and indecisiveness, words used to 
soften a statement. "I am sure" is bold and strong. Wealhbeow's character is colored by 
these many small distinctions that add up to create either a soft hostess or a strong political 



Freawaru's character is likewise made different through a number of small 

translation choices. We don't see much of Wealhbeow and Hroogar's daughter, but 

Beowulf explains her situation to Hygelac when he returns to his lord and reports of the 

Scyldings (see app. Dl-3). The term goldhroden (line 2025) is again translated by 

Donaldson as "gold-adorned" and by Heaney as "in her gold-trimmed attire," in the first 

instance making Freawaru into an object and in the possessive pronoun in the second 

giving her enough clout as a royal princess to own gold. Such characterization is clear in 

the translation of lines 2029-2031: 

Oft seldan hw<er 
cefter leodhryre lytle hwile 

bongar buged, peak seo bryd dugel 

Beowulf predicts that Freawaru's marriage into a hostile tribe as a peace-weaver will end in 

tragedy because of past hostilities. Donadson's version reads: "Yet most often after the fall 

of any prince in any nation the deadly spear rests but a little while, even though the bride 

be good." Good is about as vague as an adjective can be: horses are good, and gold, and 

ships. Anything is good that is not bad. Freawaru is characterized as more of an object 


that a human being. Duge does mean to do or be good, but Heaney looks beyond the 

literal meaning: 

But generally the spear 
is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed, 
no matter how admirable the bride may be. 

Heaney chooses "admirable" instead of "good," a much more specific adjective. People are 

admirable for their deeds and character, so it is a compliment to Freawaru; it shows her 

character. She is a princess in a difficult situation; as discussed before, royal women in this 

culture had the impossible job of creating peace among people who value war. This 

necessary function of queens is emphasized by Heaney; Freawaru is probably admirable for 

her ability to weave peace, but even this skill cannot compete with the instinct for revenge. 

If she is indeed admirable, her situation becomes more tragic, because she will try, and fail, 

and not deserve her fate. 


Hildeburh is another archetypal medieval character that has a tragic fate she cannot 

escape (see app. El-3). As the poem states in line 1075, jxet wees geomuru idesl The lines 

are juxtaposed to the lines early on in the poem about Scyld Scefing, jxet w<es god cyning! 

Hildeburh is juxtaposed to the famous king, giving her a status similar to a king's. This 


idea is not clear in a formal equivalence translation. Word for word, Donaldson translates 
this half line as, "That was a mournful woman." This statement of fact is impersonal and 
could apply to many a woman, and it reveals little about Hildeburh herself. Heaney's 
translation of this section is difficult to line up with the original text, but he is much more 
descriptive about Hildeburh's horrible position: 

the woman in shock, 

waylaid by grief, 
Hoe's daughter — 

"Mournful" is less specific and less dramatic than "shocked" and "waylaid by grief." Even 

the fact that Heaney arranges these lines of the scop's tale in italics and spaces the half-lines 

out as he does creates a greater sense of drama in her tale. The alliteration in these original 

lines— both, battlefield, bereft, blameless— makes Hildeburh's grief stand out in relief. 

Hildeburh's pathetic plight is very dramatic in Heaney's translation, as it should be for his 



Modbryo is a complicated character in that she undergoes a complete character 

change almost inexplicably (see app. Fl-3). Her evil nature is contrasted with Hygd's 


generous character in a story told by the narrator when Beowulf returns home in lines 


Mod pryfio w<eg, 
Fremu folces oven, firen ondrysne. 

Heaney changes the syntax and parts of speech: 

Great Queen Modthryth 
perpetrated terrible wrongs 

Donaldson's words are very similar: "Modthryo, good folk-queen, did dreadful deeds [in 

her youth] ." Donaldson must insert information in brackets for his translation to make 

sense. Heaney makes the word fremu into a title, moving the adjective to modify 

Modbryo's name, and the result is that the reader knows Modbryo has power and status. 

Donaldson's "good folk-queen" is much weaker; not only is "good" weaker than "Great," it 

follows the proper noun, weakening the adjective's status in the sentence. Likewise with 

"Queen" and "queen;" although the capitalization can be attributed to grammar, the capital 

Q gives a greater sense of significance. 



Hygd is a queen very much like Wealhbeow in that she has a position of authority 

and is admired by her people (see app. Fl-3). When Beowulf returns to his homeland, the 

narrator describes Hygd in line 1929-31: 

Hcerepes dohtor; rues hio hnah swa peak, 

ne to gneafi gifa Geata leodum, 


She is Hzereb's daughter, meaning she was born into a powerful family, giving her clout. 

Donaldson follows the litotes of the original poem: "For she was not niggardly, not too 

sparing of gifts to the men of the Geats, of treasures." Defining someone by what they are 

not in modern English is complicated. If a person is "not niggardly" the double negative 

suggests that the person could actually be stingy but not as extreme as niggardly. The 

meaning becomes vague without a clear sense of tone. Litotes can also be used for 

understatement, as is the case in the original Anglo-Saxon lines. Heaney avoids the 

ambiguity of litotes altogether: 

Hareth's daughter behaved generously 
and stinted nothing when she distributed 
bounty to the Geats. 


Heaney's eloquent lines refer to Hygd as "generous," an admirable quality, instead of "not 

niggardly," which is awkward and implies that Hygd gives what she should, not more. 

Heaney's translation does not follow the syntax of the original, but reorganizes grammatical 

elements for a smoother flow. The reader does not have to slow down to grapple with a 

choppy sentence like Donaldson's, and can focus instead on Queen Hygd's character. 

Hygd's power is most apparent after her husband Hygelac dies and she offers 

leadership to Beowulf (see app. Gl-3): 

(Er him Hygd gebead hord ond rice, 

beagas ond bregostol, bearne ne truwode 

p<et he wid telfylcum epelstolas 

healdan cuSe, da wees Hygelac dead. 

These lines prove without a doubt the power and savvy of a queen: Hygd has the power to 

choose the next leader and can even break the family dynasty, and she is intelligent enough 

to put the needs of the tribe before her own son's position. Donaldson's version reads: 

"There Hygd offered him hoard and kingdom, rings and a prince's throne. She had no 

trust in her son, that he could hold his native throne against foreigners now that Hygelac 

was dead." Hygd is characterized as powerful in this version, but it is not as strong as 



There Hygd offered him throne and authority 
as lord of the ring-hoard: with Hygelac dead, 
she had no belief in her son's ability 
to defend their homeland against foreign invaders. 

In Donaldson's version, Hygd offered Beowulf four objects: hoard, kingdom, rings, and 

throne. Heaney more explicitly indicates that Beowulf will have power, which is only 

implies in Donaldson's lines: Hygd offers him "authority." That she can give him power 

shows more strength of position than offering him objects, however large. Heaney's 

translation also makes the political climate seem dire, and thus Hygd's offer more 

significant: instead of "hold his native throne against foreigners," Heaney uses the words 

"defend their homeland against foreign invaders." To "defend" is a stronger verb than to 

"hold," and "homeland" is more important than a person's "throne" since it affects more 

people, and "foreigners" are less threatening than "foreign invaders." In Donaldson's 

version it seems that there might be some trouble, but in Heaney's version, war is 

imminent. That Hygd would recognize the danger of war and act as a peaceweaver by 

giving power to Beowulf proves her to be astute, strong, and authoritative. 


Grendel's Mother 

Grendel's mother is not a typical female character: she can be considered a woman 
or a monster, sympathetic or horrific, or all at the same time. For my purposes, I equate 
Grendel's mother with the queens, for a few reasons: like the other queens, she is a mother 
and advocates for her son, she is in a position of authority in her hall, she was forced into a 
tragic life (she is an outcast because she is a descendant of Cain), and she must be stealthy 
and cautious instead of acting aggressively to gain what she needs (revenge and Grendel's 
arm). Grendel's mother is a border- walker; she walks the line between human and 
monster, she lives on the outskirts if society, and she is female with the disposition of a 
male. The description of her using many hyphens, such as monster-wife, shows this idea — 
she walks the line between the two incongruous nouns. There is a strong sense of 
underlying sympathy for this character that is in-between. We are given the justification 
for her actions, no matter how destructive she may be. Her character has many somewhat 
contradictory facets. 

When we first meet Grendel's mother (see app. Hl-3), she is described in line 1258 

Grendles modor, 


ides, agheavif, yrmpe gemunde 

As discussed before, ides means woman, but is most often used to describe an unusual 

woman who has some special quality. It is a word usually used in poetry, so it is not a 

common word for a common woman. In this passage ides may be used ironically. 

Donaldson follows word for word: "Grendel's mother, woman, monster-wife, was mindful 

of her misery." In this translation ides is not ironic, nor do we get the sense that there is 

anything special or unusual about this woman. "Monster-wife" refers to Grendel's mother's 

descent from Cain; by not clarifying this point, she seems more evil than tragic and cast 

out — after all, Cain committed the crime, not Grendel's mother. "Mindful of her misery" 

emphasizes thinking about her sad circumstances, but does not identify the cause of them. 

Heaney's lines read: 

Grendel's mother, 
monstrous hell-bride, brooded over her wrongs. 

Here Grendel's mother is described as more of a monster than a woman also, but she has 

been wronged by an outside party, as opposed to being sad. Of course she is brooding — she 

has reason, her son is dead. Heaney, like Donaldson, does not explain the significance of 


"hell-bride," a choice that pushes Grendel's mother into the realm of evil, which seems 
counter to his usual tendency. 

Heaney's translation does make Grendel's mother seem more of a wronged woman 
than Donaldson's. In Donaldson's version, she "had to dwell in the terrible water," but we 
don't know why. Did she choose her dwelling place herself? Heaney uses the words 
"forced down into fearful waters," which is much more dramatic. Someone, probably god, 
used violent means to push Grendel's mother out of society into a terrible place. She is the 
passive, wronged party in this scenario. In describing her need for revenge Heaney's 
mother is also sympathetic and pathetic; she is "grief-racked and ravenous, desperate for 
revenge." This is a woman who is suffering because of the loss of her son, something to 
which any mother could relate. Desperation and grief make her more human, not more 
monstrous. Donaldson would have her be a monster, though; she is "greedy and gallows 
grim, (she) would go on a sorrowful adventure, avenge her son's death." The words 
"greedy," "gallows," "grim," and "sorrowful" all support the notion that Grendel's mother is 
an evil, violent beast instead of a sympathetic albeit mentally unstable mother. 

The most telling passage of Grendel's mother's characterization is in the description 
of her strength. The narrator makes an interesting gender comparison in line 1282: 


Wees se gryre Icessa 
efne swa micle swa bid m<egpa cr<eft, 

wiggryre wifes, be wcepnedmen, 

ponne heoru bunden, hamere gepuren, 

sweord swatefah swin ofer helme 

ecgum dyhttig andweard scirefi. 

A woman inciting battle is not normal in this culture, so we are given this analysis of just 

how powerful Grendel's mother is. Donaldson follows the words carefully: "The attack was 

the less terrible by just so much as is the strength of women, the war-terror of a wife, less 

than an armed man's when a hard blade, forge-hammered, a sword shining with blood, 

good of its edges, cuts the stout boar on a helmet opposite." The logic is hard to follow, 

the sentence is awkward, and we are not sure how deadly the "war- terror of a wife" actually 

is. Heaney unravels this mess: 

Her onslaught was less 
only by as much as an amazon warrior's 
strength is less than an armed man's 
when the hefted sword, its hammered edge 
and gleaming blade slathered in blood, 
razes the sturdy boar-ridge off a helmet. 

Heaney changes the "war- terror of a wife" into the "amazon warrior's strength," making the 

reference clear and also making Grendel's mother's actions admirable. The reference to an 

amazon, a renowned woman warrior, has more heft that a wife, a woman who is defined by 


her husband. Although the reference is not historical, we understand instantly the sense of 

the lines. Heaney's mother is a strong warrior; Donaldson's, once a reader can make sense 

of his sentence, is a wife who may be forced into battle. The mention of a wife also 

reminds the reader that Grendel's mother is a descendent of Cain, reestablishing her 

destructive nature. 

When Grendel's mother is found in the hall, her egress is dramatic. She cannot 

fight all of the men in the hall. Donaldson's translation is informative but removed from 

the situation: "She was in haste, would be gone out from there, protect her life after she 

was discovered." Heaney's translation is much more dramatic, making the reader feel her 

fright and heightening the action: 

The hell-dam was in panic, desperate to get out, 
In mortal terror the moment she was found. 

"Panic," desperation, and "mortal terror" create a sense of tension in which we become 
sympathetic for Grendel's mother's position. She is characterized by Heaney as a woman 
with feelings, even though he continues to call her a "hell-dam" in order to preserve her 
role as an opponent to Beowulf. 


Grendel's mother must be fantastical in some way as one of Beowulf s three non- 
human opponents, but it is clear that Grendel's mother is also the tragic woman archetype 
of medieval times. We cannot dismiss her as a non-female character. We feel a sympathy 
for her that we do not feel for either Grendel or the dragon. A translator must walk the 
difficult line of keeping her a monster while at the same time providing a sense of sympathy 
for the reader. 




Seamus Heaney's dynamic equivalence translation of Beowulf 'is full of figurative 
language and connotation that hints at possibilities of meaning a literal translation 
overlooks. A poem is the condensation of wisdom and truths that need to be unpacked; a 
poem is never literal; an intuitive sense of language is more valuable to this task than a 
historian's catalogue of facts and analysis. 

Harold Bloom's theory of poets' development in The Anxiety of Influence therefore 

applies to the translations of a poem as well as to original poetry. Bloom posits that poets 

undergo a kind of psychological transformation due to a misreading of and rejection of the 

influence of previous poets: 

Poetic influence — when it involves two strong, authentic poets — always 
proceeds by a misreading of the prior poet, an act of creative correction that 
is actually and necessarily a misinterpretation. The history of fruitful poetic 
influence, which is to say the main tradition of Western poetry since the 
Renaissance, is a history of anxiety and self-saving caricature, of distortion, 
of perverse, willful revisionism without which modern poetry as such could 
not exist. (30) 

The "willful revisionism" of a previous poet is akin to Freud's Oedipus conflict: it is a 

struggle to transume or, in Oedipal terms, kill a previous poet. Bloom uses the term 


"misprision" to describe a defensive misinterpretation of an older poet, also called 
"clinamen," a resulting "swerving away" due to a revisionary misreading of the predecessor. 
A poet creatively misreads the poetry of a predecessor and wants to avoid the influence of 
this poetry, so he or she "swerves away" from it, moving against the pressure of the past. 
Thus, any work of poetry cannot be seen as wholly original or independent; all poetry is 
connected to other poetry, even if it is reactionary. 

Bloom's theory actually may apply better to translators of Beowulf than it does to 
poets. Translators engage in creative recreation and their work can be considered a form of 
art. In the case of Beowulf, there have been so many translations that no one can work in a 
vacuum; each translator reacts to or against previous translators. Since they speak copiously 
about their process and philosophy, we know who and what they are reacting against — 
from whom or what they are "swerving away." As previously noted in Chapter IV, 
translators always justify their work. They explain why they are taking a different path than 
others and why their choices best suit Beowulf. What is more complicated about translators 
than poets is that sometimes there is misreading of previous translations, and sometimes 
there is misreading of the original text, or both. 


So Bloom's theory applies seamlessly to the multitude of translations of Beowulf. 
The first translators of the poem were historians in universities, because they were the only 
ones with the access and impetus to work with this one arcane manuscript accidentally 
found in a private library, bound together with other Anglo-Saxon texts. John M. Kemble 
had no model for translation and his purpose was to literally reproduce the poem's diction, 
syntax, and storyline into modern English in prose. So focused was he on the correct 
diction that he began a cursory dictionary. His became the prototype translation and other 
historians followed suit. It is important to remember that English and literature as an 
academic discipline was just coming into existence: at Cambridge, where Kemble was a 
historian, English Literature as an academic discipline was not accepted until the early 20 
century; literature was for women and the lower classes, not for educated men (Eagleton 
27). Beowulfwould not have been studied in any other discipline in Kemble's time, and 
without the historians, the text would probably still be in some dusty archive. 

The formal equivalence translations are indeed a "misprision," a willful misreading, 
because the interest and purpose of the translators did not include literary studies. Kemble 
and the historian translators that followed him read Beowulf 'for historical elements that 

Harold Bloom edited hundreds of anthologies, including one on Beowulf 


would give insight into the medieval age and the Germanic peoples. They misread the 
word goldhroden by simplifying it to mean merely gold-adorned, when clearly the word 
implies the authority and power of a queen as represented by the gold she owned and 
displayed on her person. Hildeburh was described as an ides geomuru, a mournful woman, 
but the phrase is clearly an understatement to emphasize the horrors of a woman in the 
position of a peace-weaver, and she was not just any woman but a famous queen. The 
formal equivalence translators undervalued and underestimated the text as literature, 
seeking to pinpoint facts about Hygelac's life and disregarding the rest. They swerved away 
from the poem as a work of art and made it into a text to be studied and translated as an 


When new translators began to take an interest in translating Beowulf 'in the second 
half of the 20 century, they in turn "swerved away" from the formal equivalence 
translation of the academics in favor of the freedom of dynamic equivalence translation. 
They needed the space to address goldhroden as a concept and not just a word, which could 
only happen by eschewing word-for-word and line-by-line translating. Edwin Morgan and 
Seamus Heaney brought the poem to life in a way that might have delighted Tolkien. In 
"swerving away" from the more academic translations of previous decades, dynamic 


equivalence translators have recreated Beowulf as a work of literary art that is enjoyable for 
the modern reader. They recognize that the poem has the beauty and relevance to capture 
the modern imagination. This second "swerving away" was not due to "misprision," 
however — the new translators did not creatively misread previous versions, because there 
really is no misreading of something so literal and concrete. Instead, dynamic equivalence 
translators intended to bring to life a masterful poem for today's readers by loosening the 
firm grip on strict adherence to words and lines. Seamus Heaney's success, the fact that his 
translation was a bestseller, meaning his book reached a large audience, is a strong indicator 
that dynamic equivalence translation works to open up an arcane poem for the enjoyment 
of a non-scholar audience. 




Bloom's theory of influence was meant for poets, and although it clearly applies to 
translators as well, it is interesting to note that most dynamic equivalence translators are 
poets. The formal equivalence translators were necessarily academic historians, since 
Beowulf could only be read in the original Anglo-Saxon by those in academia. Academic 
focus on the history and the grammar of the story was of paramount importance; their 
audience was others in academia that wished to study the poem, and formal equivalence 
translations fulfilled this purpose. After a few hundred years, though, formal equivalence 
translations were nothing new. Technology makes literature more accessible for a general 
audience, and a general audience will not suffer footnotes; a literal Beowulf 'is dry and 
unappealing, oftentimes incomprehensible. The purpose of the poets was to work with the 
language to create translations accessible to a large readership, and they were very 
successful. The consequence of such dynamic equivalence translations is a reader's 
experience of the poem that is akin to the original audience; the lines of poetry are 
beautiful, the rhythm is mesmerizing, and the queens are interesting characters. I would 
argue that poet translators, because of their experience with the art of creating poetry, 


create translations of Beowulf that are not only more accurate in an experiential sense but 
also more alive and relevant to today's readership. 

People have been fascinated by Beowulf 'for hundreds of years now: the story was an 
oral tale from a Germanic culture that was repeated and popular enough to travel to 
England, where it was Christianized and written down by a scribe. The manuscript was 
considered interesting enough to be bound together with other Anglo-Saxon works, and 
when discovered in Robert Bruce Cotton's library, was removed to London for 
safekeeping. Scholars began to translate passages in German and English, and John 
Kemble translated it in full in 1833, and people have been reading and translating it ever 


since. The poem has lasted because it is relevant; the tale explains what it is to be human, 
what is of import in the human existence, examining bravery and heroism, loyalty, tragedy 
if losing loved ones, facing fears, and living up to responsibilities in an honorable way. 
Such themes are presented in beautiful and powerful language. The historical curiosity of 
the story and the manuscript itself only adds to Beowulf s mystique. 

1 The "safekeeping" wasn't so safe, since the manuscript was singed in a fire. 

2 At Oxford University, students are still required to read the poem in the original Anglo- 
Saxon, a curriculum requirement much criticized in recent years. 


Although each generation has had its own preferred translation, we will never be 

satisfied with one authoritative version because our culture, the culture of the receiving 

readership, is constantly in flux. Norton's choice of translators is the perfect example: 

Donaldson's dry prose was studied for years, to be supplanted by Heaney's version, since we 

came to appreciate the literary aspect of the poem more than the scholarly aspect. Beowulf 

will continue to be translated, as it should be, in order to keep the text alive. Howell 

Chickering commented: 

Some few (translators) will always have the chutzpah to think they have 
enough poetic talent to render the original into Modern English verse. And 
Beowulf will go on being newly translated for the foreseeable future. 
("Heaneywulf 177) 

The "chutzpah" to continue to work with Anglo-Saxon poetry seem to me a positive 

prospect — each generation must make the poem their own in order to keep the 

conversation going, in order to make the words from a dusty manuscript come alive, in 

order to keep the word-hord unlocked. Otherwise, Beowulf dies, and the heroic tale is over. 



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Eode Wealhbeow foro, 

cwen Hroogares, cynna gemyndig, 

grette goldhroden guman on healle, 


ond J?a freolic wif 

aerest Eastdena 

baed hine blione 

leodum leofne. 

symbel ond seleful, 


Ymbeode ba ides Helminga 

dugube ond geogobe dad aeghwylcne, 

sincfato sealde, obbaet sad alamp 

fill gesealde 
act baere beorbege, 
He on lust gebeah 
sigerof kyning. 

\>xt hio Beowulfe, 
mode gebungen, 

grette Geata leod, 
wisfest wordum 
))xt heo on aenigne 
fyrena frofre. 
wadreow wiga, 

ond ba gyddode gube gefysed; 

Beowulf mabelode, beam Ecgbeowes: 

"Ic bst hogode, ba ic on holm gestah. 

mid minra secga gedriht, 
eowra leoda 

beaghroden cwen 
medoful aetbaer; 

gode bancode 
baes oe hire se willa gelamp 
eorl gelyfde 
He baet ful gebeah, 
act Wealhbeon, 

saebat gesaet 

baet ic anunga 


willan geworhte 

feondgrapum faest. 

oboe on wael crunge, 
Ic gefremman sceal 


eorlic ellen, oJ)<5e endedasg 

on J?isse meoduhealle minne gebidan." 

oam wife J?a word wel licodon, 


gilpcwide Geates; eode goldhroden 

freolicu folccwen to hire frean sittan. 





...Wealhtheow came forth, Hroogar's queen, mindful of custom, gold-adorned, greeted the 
men in the hall; and the noble woman offered the cup first to the keeper of the land of the 
East-Danes, bade him be glad at the beer-drinking, beloved of the people. In joy he 
partook of feast and hall-cup, king famous for victories. Then the woman of the Helmings 
went about to each one of the retainers, young and old, offered to them the costly cup, 
until the time came that she brought the mead-bowl to Beowulf, the ring-adorned queen, 
mature of mind. Sure of speech she greeted the man of the Geats, thanked God that her 
wish was fulfilled, that she might trust in some man for help against deadly 
deeds... (Bewoulf speaks)... These words were well-pleasing to the woman, the boast of the 
Geat. Gold-adorned, the noble folk-queen went to sit by her lord. 





and the crowd was happy. Wealhtheow came in, 

Hroogar's queen, observing the courtesies. 

adorned in her gold, she graciously saluted 

the men in hall, then handed the cup 

first to Hroogar, their homeland's guardian, 

urging him to drink deep and enjoy it 

because he was dear to them. And he drank it down 

like the warlord he was, with festive cheer. 

so the Helmings woman went on her rounds, 

queenly and dignified, decked out in rings, 

offering the goblet to all ranks, 

treating the household and the assembled troop 

until it was Beowulf s turn to take t from her hand. 

With measured words she welcomed the Geat 

and thanked God for granting her wish 

that a deliverer she could believe in would arrive 

to ease their afflictions. He accepted the cup 

This formal boast by Beowulf the Geat 
pleased the lady well and she went to sit 
by Hroogar, regal and arrayed with gold. 


BEOWULF LINES 1162-1191 

byrelas sealdon 

win of wunderfatum. J?a cwom Wealhbeo foro 

gan under gyldnum beage, bser ba godan twegen 

sseton suhtergefxderan; ba gyt wss hiera sib setgxdere, 


xghwylc oorum trywe. Swylce baer Unferjj byle 

act fotum szet frean Scyldinga; gehwylc hiora his ferhbe treowde, 

bset he hasfde mod micel, beah be he his magum nacre 

arfasst act ecga gelacum. Sprsc oa ides Scyldinga: 

"Onfoh bissum fulle, freodrihten min, 


sinces brytta! bu on sadum wes, 

goldwine gumena, ond to Geatum sprsc 

mildum wordum, swa sceal man don. 

Beo wio Geatas glasd, geofena gemyndig, 

nean ond feorran bu nu hafast. 


Me man ssgde baet bu oe for sunu wolde 

hererinc habban. Heorot is gefadsod, 

beahsele beorhta; bruc benden bu mote 

manigra medo, ond binum magum laef 

folc ond rice, bonne ou foro scyle 


metodsceaft seon. Ic minne can 

glasdne Hrobulf, bast he ba geogooe wile 

arum healdan, gyf bu xr Jjonne he, 

wine Scildinga, worold oflaetest; 

wene ic bart he mid gode gyldan wille 


uncran eaferan, gif he bast eal gemon, 


hwaet wit to willan ond to woromyndum 

umborwesendum zer arna gefremedon." 

Hwearf ba bi bence bser hyre byre waeron, 

Hreoric ond Hroomund, ond hadeba beam, 


giogoo aetgsdere; baer se goda sast, 

Beowulf Geata, be baem gebroorum twxm. 



BEOWULF LINES 1162-1191 


...Then Wealhtheow came forth to walk under gold crown to where the good men sat, 
nephew and uncle: their friendship was then still unbroken, each true to the other ... Then 
the woman of the Scyldings spoke: 

"Take this cup my noble lord, giver of treasure. Be glad, gold-friend of warriors, 
and speak to the Geats with mild words, as a man ought to do. Be gracious to the Geats, 
mindful of gifts [which] you now have from near and far. They have told me that you 
would have the warrior for your son. Heorot is purged, the bright ring-hall. Enjoy while 
you may many rewards, and leave your kinsmen folk and kingdom when you must go forth 
to look on the Ruler's decree. I know my gracious Hrothulf, that he will hold the young 
warriors in honor if you, friend of the Scyldings, leave the world before him. I think he 
will repay our son with good if he remembers all the favors we did to his pleasure and 
honor when he was a child." 

Then she turned to the bench where her sons were, Hrethic and Hrothmund, and 
the sons of the warriors, young men together. There sat the good man Beowulf of the 
Geats beside the two brothers. 

The cup was borne to him and welcome offered in friendly words to him, 



BEOWULF LINES 1162-1191 


with wine in splendid jugs, and Wealhtheow came to sit 

in her gold crown between two good men, 

uncle and nephew, each one of whom 

still trusted the other; and the forthright Unferth, 

admired by all for his mind and courage 

although under a cloud for killing his brothers, 

reclined near the kind. 

The queen spoke: 
"Enjoy this drink, my most generous lord; 
raise up your goblet, entertain the Geats 
duly and gently, discourse with them, 
be open-handed, happy and fond. 
Relish their company, but recollect as well 
Of all the boons that have been bestowed on you. 
The bright court of Heorot has been cleansed 
And now the word is you want to adopt 
This warrior as a son. So, while you may, 
Bask in your fortune, and then bequeath 
Kingdom and nation to your kith and kin, 
Before your decease. I am certain of Hrothulf. 
He is noble and will use the young ones well. 
He will not let you down. Should you die before him, 
He will treat our children truly and fairly. 
He will honour, I am sure, our two sons, 
Repay them in kind when he recollects 
All the good things we gave him once, 
The favour and respect he found in his childhood." 

She turned then to the bench where her boys sat, 


Hrethic and Hrothmund, with other nobles' sons, 
All the youth together; and that good man, 
Beowulf the Geat, sat between the brothers. 

The cup was carried to him, kind words 


BEOWULF LINES 1215-1232 

Wealhoeo mabelode, heo fore bxm werede spraec: 

"Bruc oisses beages, Beowulf leofa, 

hyse, mid hade, ond bisses hrsgles neot, 

beodgestreona, ond gebeoh tela, 

cen bee mid crasfte ond byssum cnyhtum wes 


lara lioe; ic be bass lean geman. 

Hafast bu gefered bast oe feor ond neah 

ealne wideferhb weras ehtigao, 

efne swa side swa sx bebugeo, 

windgeard, weallas. Wes benden bu lifige, 


sebeling, eadig. Ic be an tela 

sincgestreona. Beo bu suna minum 

dsedum gedefe, dreamhealdende. 

Her is seghwylc eorl obrum getrywe, 

modes milde, mandrihtne hold; 


begnas syndon gebwzere, beod ealgearo, 

druncne dryhtguman doo swa ic bidde." 

Eode ba to setle. 



BEOWULF LINES 1215-1232 


...Wealhtheow spoke, before the company she said to him: "Wear this ring, beloved 
Beowulf, young man, with good luck, and make use of this mail-shirt from the people's 
treasure, and prosper well; make yourself known with your might, and be kind of counsel 
to these boys: I shall remember to reward you for that. You have brought it about that, far 
and near, for a long time all men shall praise you, as wide as the sea surrounds the shores, 
home of the winds. While you live, prince, be prosperous. I wish you well of your 
treasure. Much favored one, be kind of deeds to my son. Here each earl is true to other, 
mild of heart, loyal to his lord; the thanes are at one, the people obedient, the retainers 
cheered with drink do as I bid." 

Then she walked to her seat. 



BEOWULF LINES 1215-1232 


Then Wealhtheow pronounced in the presence of the company: 

"Take delight in this torque, dear Beowulf, 

wear it for luck and wear also this mail 

from our people's armoury: may you prosper in them! 

Be acclaimed for strength, for kindly guidance 

to these two boys, and your bounty will be sure. 

You have won renown: you are known to all men 

far and near, now and forever. 

Your sway is wide as the wind's home, 

as the sea around cliffs. And so, my prince, 

I wish you a lifetime's luck and blessings 

to enjoy this treasure. Treat my sons 

with tender care, be strong and kind. 

Here each comrade is true to the other, 

loyal to lord, loving in spirit. 

The thanes have one purpose, the people are ready: 

having drunk and pledged, the ranks do as I bid." 

She moved then to her place. 


BEOWULF LINES 2020-2069 

Hwilum for dugufte dohtor Hroogares 

eorlum on ende ealuwsege bzer; 

ba ic Freaware fletsittende 

nemnan hyrde, bxr hio naegled sine 

hadeoum sealde. Sio gehaten is, 


geong, goldhroden, gladum suna Frodan; 

hafab baes geworden wine Scyldinga, 

rices hyrde, ond bast rzed talao, 

baet he mid oy wife wadfxhoa dael, 

sscca gesette. Oft seldan hwsr 


arfter leodhryre lytle hwile 

bongar bugeo, beah seo bryd duge! 

him se ooer bonan 

losao lifigende, con him land geare. 

bonne bioo abrocene on ba healfe 

aosweord eorla; sybban Ingelde 


weallao wadnioas, ond him wiflufan 

arfter cearwadmum colran weoroao. 

by ic Heaftobeardna hyldo ne telge, 

dryhtsibbe dad Denum unfecne, 

freondscipe festne. 



BEOWULF LINES 2020-2069 


...At times Hrothgar's daughter bore the ale-cup to the retainers, to the earls throughout 
the hall. I heard hall-sitters name her Freawaru when she offered the studded cup to 
warriors. Young and gold-adorned, she is promised to the fair son of Froda. That has 
seemed good to the lord of the Scyldings, the guardian of the kingdom, and he believes of 
this plan that he may, with this woman, settle their portion of deadly feuds, of quarrels. 
Yet most often after the fall of any prince in any nation the deadly spear rests but a little 
while, even though the bride is good. 

...Then on both sides the oath of the earls will be broken; then deadly hate will well up in 
Ingeld, and his wife-love after the surging of sorrows will become cooler. 



BEOWULF LINES 2020-2069 


Sometimes Hrothgar's daughter distributed 
ale to older ranks, in order on the benches: 
I heard the company call her Freawaru 
as she made her rounds, presenting men 
with the gem-studded bowl, young bride-to-be 
to the gracious Ingeld, in her gold-trimmed attire. 
The friend of the Shieldings favours her betrothal: 
the guardian of the kingdom sees good in it 
and hopes this woman will heal old wounds 
and grievous feuds. 

But generally the spear 
is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed, 
no matter how admirable the bride may be. 

Then on both sides the oath-bound lords 
will break the peace, a passionate hate 
will build up in Ingeld and love for his bride 
will falter in him as the feud rankles. 


BEOWULF LINES 1069-1094 

hadeo Healfdena, Hnarf Scyldinga, 

in Freswade feallan scolde. 

Ne huru Hildeburh herian borfte 

Eotena treowe; unsynnum wearo 

beloren leofum xt bam lindplegan, 

bearnum ond broorum; hie on gebyrd hruron, 


gare wunde. bast wa:s geomuru ides! 

Nalles holinga Hoces dohtor 

meotodsceaft bemearn, syboan morgen com, 

oa heo under swegle geseon meahte 

morborbealo maga, \>xr heo xr mxste heold 


worolde wynne. 

Finnes begnas 

bset he ne mehte 

wig Hengeste 

ne ba wealafe 


beodnes oegna; 

baet hie him ooer flet 

healle ond heahsetl, 

wio Eotena beam 

ond xt feohgyftum 


dogra gehwylce 

Hengestes heap 

efne swa swioe 

faettan goldes, 

on beorsele 

Wig ealle fornam 
nemne feaum anum, 

on bsem meoelstede 
wiht gefeohtan, 
wige forbringan 

ac hig him gebingo budon, 
eal gerymdon, 
bast hie healfre geweald 
agan moston, 
Folcwaldan sunu 

Dene weorbode, 
hringum wenede 
swa he Fresena cyn 
byldan wolde. 



BEOWULF LINES 1069-1094 


The hero of the Half-Danes, Hnaef of the Scyldings, was fated to fall on the Frisian 
battlefield. And no need had Hildeburh to praise the good faith of the Jutes: blameless she 
was deprived of her dear ones at the shield-play, of son and brother; wounded by spears 
they fell to their fate. That was a mournful woman. Not without cause did Hoe's daughter 
lament the decree of destiny when morning came and she might see, under the sky, the 
slaughter of kinsmen — where before she had the greatest of world's joy... 

The funeral pyre was made ready and gold brought up from the hoard... Then 
Hildeburh bade give her own son to the flames on Hnaef s pyre, burn his blood vessels, put 
him in the fire at the shoulder of his uncle. The woman mourned, sang her lament. The 
warrior took his place. 

...Then was the hall reddened from foes' bodies, and thus Finn slain, the king in his 
company, and the queen taken.... They brought the noble woman on the sea-journey to the 
Danes, led her to her people. 



BEOWULF LINES 1069-1094 



had little cause 
to credit the Jutes: 

son and brother, 
she lost them both 

on the battlefield. 
She, bereft 

and blameless, they 
foredoomed, cut down 

and spear-gored. She, 
the woman in shock, 

waylaid by grief, 
Hoe's daughter — 

how could she not 
lament her fate 

when morning came 
and the light broke 

on her murdered dears? 

A funeral pyre 

Was then prepared, 
effulgent gold 


brought out from the hoard. 

Then Hildehurh 

ordered her own 
son's body 

be burnt with Hnaefs, 
the flesh on his bones 

to sputter and blaze 
beside his uncle's. 

The woman wailed 
and sang keens, 

the warrior went up. 

Finn was cut down, 
the queen brought away 

and everything 
the Shieldings could fins 

inside Finn's walls — 
the Frisian king's 

gold collars and gemstones — 
swept off the ship. 

Over the sea-lanes then 
back to Daneland 

the warrior troop 
bore that lady home. 


BEOWULF LINES 1925-1957 

bregorof cyning, 

Hygd swioe geong, 

beah oe wintra lyt 

gebiden hxbbe, 

nass hio hnah swa beah, 

Geata leodum, 
Mod bryoo wxg, 
firen ondrysne. 
deor geneban 
nefne sinfrea, 

eagum starede, 
weotode tealde 
hrabe seoboan waes 
mece gebinged, 
scyran moste, 

Ne bio swylc cwenlic beaw 
beah oe hio zenlicu sy, 
feores onszece 
leofne mannan. 

Hemminges mxg; 

Bold wxs betlic, 

heah in healle, 

wis, welbungen, 

under burhlocan 

Hzerebes dohtor; 


ne to gneao gifa 


fremu folces cwen, 

Nsnig bast dorste 

swssra gesioa, 


bast hire an dsges 

ac him wadbende 


arfter mundgripe 

baet hit sceadenmad 


cwealmbealu cyoan. 

idese to efnanne, 

bsette freoouwebbe 

arfter ligetorne 

Huru baet onhohsnode 


ealodrincende ooer sasdan, 

bset hio leodbealewa lass gefremede, 

inwitnioa, syooan asrest wearo 

gyfen goldhroden geongum cempan 


xoelum diore, syooan hio Offan flet 


ofer fealone flod be fkder lare 

sioe gesohte; oasr hio syooan well 

in gumstole, gode, mzere, 

lifgesceafta lifigende breac, 

hiold heahlufan wio hadeba brego, 


ealles moncynnes mine gefrsege 

Jjone selestan bi saem tweonum, 




BEOWULF LINES 1925-1957 


The building was splendid, its king most valiant, set high in the hall, Hygd most 
youthful, wise and well-taught, though she had lived within the castle walls few winters, 
daughter of Haereth. For she was not niggardly, not too sparing of gifts to the men of the 
Geats, of treasures. Modthryth, good folk-queen, did dreadful deeds [in her youth] : no 
bold one among her retainers dared venture — except her great lord — to set his eyes on her 
in daylight, but [if he did] he should reckon deadly bonds prepared for him, arresting 
hands: that straightway after his seizure the sword awaited him, that the patterned blade 
must settle it, make known its death-evil. Such is no queenly custom for a woman to 
practice, thought she is peerless — that one who weaves peace should take away the life of a 
beloved man after pretended injury. However the kinsman of Hemming stopped that: ale- 
drinkers gave another account, said that she did less harm to the people, fewer injuries, 
after she was given, gold-adorned, to the young warrior, the beloved noble, when by her 
father's teaching sought Offa's hall in a voyage over the pale sea. There on the throne she 
was afterwards famous for generosity, while living made use of her life, held high love 
toward the lord of warriors, [who was] of all mankind the best, as I have heard, between 
the seas of the races of men. 



BEOWULF LINES 1925-1957 


The building was magnificent, the king majestic, 

ensconced in his hall; and although Hygd, his queen, 

was young, a few short years at court, 

her mind was thoughtful and her manners sure. 

Hareth's daughter behaved generously 

and stinted nothing when she distributed 

bounty to the Geats. 

Great Queen Modthryth 
perpetrated terrible wrongs. 
If any retainer ever made bold 
to look her in the face, if an eye not her lord's 
stared at her directly during daylight, 
the outcome was sealed: he was kept bound 
in hand-tightened shackles, racked, tortured 
until doom was pronounced — death by the sword, 
slash of blade, blood-gush and death qualms 
in an evil display. Even a queen 
outstanding in beauty must not overstep like that. 
A queen should weave peace, not punish the innocent 
with loss of life for imagined insults. 
But Hemming's kinsman put a halt to her ways 
and drinkers round the table has another tale: 
she was less of a bane to people's lives, 
less cruel-minded, after she was married 
to the brave Offa, a bride arrayed 
in her gold finery, given away 
by a caring father, ferried to her young prince 
over dim seas. In days to come 
she would grace the throne and grow famous 


for her good deeds and conduct of life, 
her high devotion to the hero king 
who was the best king, it has been said, 
between the two seas or anywhere else 
on the face of the earth. Offa was honoured 


BEOWULF LINES 2369-2372 

xr him Hygd gebead hord ond rice, 

beagas ond bregostol, bearne ne truwode 

baet he wio adfylcum ebelstolas 

healdan cuoe, oa wass Hygelac dead. 



BEOWULF LINES 2369-2372 


...There Hygd offered him hoard and kingdom, rings and a prince's throne. She had no 
trust in her son, that he could hold his native throne against foreigners now that Hygelac 
was dead. 



BEOWULF LINES 2369-2372 


There Hygd offered him throne and authority 
as lord of the ring-hoard: with Hygelac dead, 
she had no belief in her son's ability 
to defend their homeland against foreign invaders. 


BEOWULF LINES 1255-1295 

baet gesyne wear)?, 
widcub werum, 
lifde setter labum, 
arfter guoceare. 
ides, agkecwif, 

se be wxteregesan 
cealde streamas, 
to ecgbanan 

bzette wrecend ba gyt 

lange brage, 
Grendles modor, 
yrmbe gemunde, 

wunian scolde, 
siboan Cain wearo 
angan brewer, 
he ba fag gewat, 

mandream fleon, 

morbre gemearcod, 


westen warode. 


heorowearh hetelic 

wsccendne wer 

bser him aglaeca 


hwsebre he gemunde maegenes strenge 

gimfeste gife oe him god sealde, 

ond him to anwaldan are gelyfde, 

banon woe fela 
wses bsera Grendel sum, 
se art Heorote fand 
wiges bidan. 
xtgraspe wearo; 

frofre ond fultum; 
gehnaegde helle gast. 

dreame bedaded, 
mancynnes feond, 
gifre ond galgmod, 
sorhfulne sio, 
Com ba to Heorote 

oy he bone feond ofercwom, 
ba he hean gewat, 

deabwic seon, 
ond his modor ba gyt, 
gegan wolde 
sunu dea& wrecan. 
, oser Hringdene 


geond bast sadd swarfun. ba oasr sona wearo 

edhwyrft eorlum, siboan inne fealh 

Grendles modor. Wars se gryre larssa 

efne swa micle swa bio masgba crarft, 

wiggryre wifes, be warpnedmen, 


bonne heoru bunden, hamere geburen, 

sweord swate fah swin ofer helme 

ecgum dyhttig andweard scireo. 

ba wars on healle heardecg togen 

sweord ofer setlum, sidrand manig 


hafen handa fzest; helm ne gemunde, 

byrnan side, ba hine se broga angeat. 

Heo wars on ofste, wolde ut banon, 

feore beorgan, ba heo onfunden wars. 

Hraoe heo arbelinga anne harfde 


farste befangen, ba heo to fenne gang. 



BEOWULF LINES 1255-1295 


It came to be seen, wide-known to men, that after the bitter battle an avenger still lived for 
an evil space: Grendel's mother, woman, monster-wife, was mindful of her misery, she who 
had to dwell in the terrible water, the cold currents, after Cain became sword-slayer of his 
only brother, his own father's son. Then Cain went as an outlaw to flee the cheerful life of 
men, marked for his murder, held to the wasteland. From him sprang many a devil sent by 
fate. Grendel was one of them, hateful outcast who at Heorot found a waking man waiting 
for his warfare. There the monster had laid hold on him, but he was mindful of the great 
strength, the large gift God had given him, and relied on the Almighty for favor, comfort 
and help. By that he overcame the foe, subdued the hell-spirit. Then he went off 
wretched, bereft of joy, to seek his dying place, enemy of mankind. And his mother, still 
greedy and gallows-grim, would go on a sorrowful adventure, avenge her son's death. 

Then she came to Heorot where the Ring-Danes slept throughout the hall. Then 
change came quickly to the earls there, when Grendel's mother made her way in. The 
attack was the less terrible by just so much as is the strength of women, the war-terror of a 
wife, less than an armed man's when a hard blade, forge-hammered, a sword shining with 
blood, good of its edges, cuts the stout boar on a helmet opposite. Then in the hall was 
hard-edged sword raised from the seat, many a broad shield lifted firmly in hand: none 
thought of helmet, of wide mail-shirt, when the terror seized him. She was in haste, 
would be gone out from there, protect her life after she was discovered. Swiftly she had 
taken fast hold on one of the nobles, then she went to the fen. 



BEOWULF LINES 1255-1295 


death after his crimes. Then it became clear, 

obvious to everyone once the fight was over, 

that an avenger lurked and was still alive, 

grimly biding time. Grendel's mother, 

monstrous hell-bride, brooded over her wrongs. 

She had been forced down into fearful waters, 

the cold depths, after Cain had killed 

his father's son, felled his own 

brother with a sword. Branded an outlaw, 

marked by having murdered, he moved into the wilds, 

shunned company and joy. And from Vain there sprang 

misbegotten spirits, among the Grendel, 

the banished and accursed, due to come to grips 

with that watcher in Heorot waiting to do battle. 

The monster wrenched and wrestled with him 

but Beowulf was mindful of his mighty strength, 

the wondrous gifts God had showered on him: 

He relied for help on the Lord of them All, 

on His care and favour. So he overcame the foe, 

brought down the hell-brute. Broken and bowed, 

outcast from all sweetness, the enemy of mankind 

made for his death-den. But now his mother 

had sallied forth on a savage journey, 

grief-racked and ravenous, desperate for revenge. 

She came to Heorot. There, inside the hall, 
Danes lay asleep, earls who would soon endure 
a great reversal, once Grendel's mother 


attacked and entered. Her onslaught was less 

only by as much as an amazon warrior's 

strength is less than an armed man's 

when the hefted sword, its hammered edge 

and gleaming blade slathered in blood, 

razes the sturdy boar-ridge off a helmet. 

Then in the hall, hard-honed swords 

were grabbed from the bench, many a broad shield 

lifted and braced; there was little thought of helmets 

or woven mail when they woke in terror. 

The hell-dam was in panic, desperate to get out, 
in mortal terror the moment she was found. 
She had pounced and taken one of the retainers 
in a tight hold, then headed for the fen.